Report Warns Against DPI Technology

fiber opticsInternet service providers' use of controversial deep packet inspection technology poses a threat to the open nature of the Web, broadband advocacy group Free Press warns in a new report.

"Improper use of DPI (deep packet inspection) can change the Internet as we know it--turning an open and innovative platform into just another form of pay-for-play media," states the 18-page report. "When a network provider chooses to install DPI equipment, that provider knowingly arms itself with the capacity to monitor and monetize the Internet in ways that threaten to destroy Net Neutrality and the essential open nature of the Internet."

The report examines recent high-profile uses of the technology by Internet service providers like Comcast and Cox Communications, as well as ad companies like NebuAd. In 2007, Comcast used deep packet inspection to interfere with peer-to-peer traffic--triggering the Federal Communications Commission to sanction the cable company for violating net neutrality principles.

More recently, Cox has said it will use the technology to prioritize certain types of traffic to manage congestion on its network. Free Press argues that doing so could stifle innovation and lead to "balkanization" of the Web. "The result would be a hodgepodge of different networks instead of one unified and universal Internet, undermining the open platform and open market principles at the root of the Internet's success," the report states.

Behavioral targeting company NebuAd also used deep packet inspection technology to learn which sites Web users were visiting, until privacy concerns scuttled the company's plans last year.

The report noted that manufacturers are still selling monitoring tools despite "the Comcast and NebuAd debacles."

"Yes, DPI can help alleviate problems of congestion in a network, thus improving the user experience," the report concludes. "But the same DPI technology--the same electronics equipment, in fact--also allows providers to monitor and monetize every use of the Internet, and DPI vendors succeed by developing and marketing this capability."

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