ICTA upholds net neutrality

| 20/07/2010

(CNS): The use of technology that would give internet service providers (ISPs) the ability of to manage internet traffic, by accelerating or “throttling” particular protocols or applications, has been denied. A public consultation on the use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and similar technologies, which began in July 2009 ended with the Information and Communications Technology Authority (ICTA) determining that the current use of this technology by two ISPs – Digicel and WestTel’s – was in breach of their ICT licences. Similarly, the ICTA found that LIME would also be in breach of its license if it implemented its planned use of DPI.

The authority also recommends that changes be made to the ICTA Law in order to significantly restrict the use of DPI in the Cayman Islands.

The ICTA said it had two primary concerns with respect to DPI – privacy and net neutrality. Regarding the former, the authority said, “Not only does DPI permit the examination of packet headers, including source and destination IP addresses (which, in some instances, may also be considered personal information), but allows an ISP to examine the content of an electronic communication. The Authority is not convinced that examination of content is essential for traffic management (or any of the other purposes listed above) and views this practice as an unreasonable invasion of an individual’s privacy.”

Commenting on the threat to net neutrality, the ICTA said that in order to promote online innovation, it is crucial that the Internet remain “neutral. The authority said did not support ISPs granting exclusive or preferential access (higher bandwidth levels) to certain providers or applications selected by the ISP. “The Authority considers that the use of DPI should not be permitted in the Cayman Islands if it undermines net neutrality principles, either directly or indirectly.”

Law firm Appleby submitted that the intent of the ICTA Law is to treat the transmission of data over the Internet in a similar manner as the sending of traditional letters, “No-one would seriously suggest that the Cayman Islands Post Office should open letters and treat them differently according to the type of correspondence they contain. We believe that if DPI had been available at the time the Law was passed, the legislature would not have permitted its use.”

Appleby further noted: “We have serious concerns as to the effect the use of DPI would have on the confidentiality of communications sent to and from Cayman, and the level of trust that clients feel able to place in the integrity of the system. It is notable in this regard that, as far as we are aware no other offshore financial centre deploys DPI. Doing so would therefore risk imposing on Cayman a significant competitive disadvantage.”

In its submission Walkers noted that with the use of DPI, ISPs could attempt to give priority to traffic from specific subscribers based on their type. “This could provide an unfair advantage to certain ISPs and their subscribers over others that do not use DPI or similar technologies. If ISPs begin giving priority to specific types of traffic, this could cause application developers to begin camouflaging their traffic as other types of traffic in order to receive higher priority. In the long-run, this would make DPI less effective.”

LIME maintained that DPI would allow the enforcement of agreements with customerswith respect to download speeds and usage. The telecommunications firm also said it could get a better understanding of the IP traffic profile of its Internet and backbone, make more effective routing of traffic on its Internet network, assist in the development of customized services and billing, and protect the network and the service quality offered from exposure to security threats.

Digicel said that DPI enables an ISP to monitor network traffic usage in real time to meet the ever increasing risk to the services provided. The firm said the value to the provider and the subscriber in prevention of fraudulent attacks on both justifies the use of DPI as a precondition to the provision of the service, though it did acknowledged that DPI can be used to carry out intentional interception of messages sent by a subscriber, but claimed it does not use DPI for these purposes.

WestTel confirmed that it employs equipment to manage its traffic loads efficiently and ensure that the majority of its customers experience expected bandwidth. WestTel noted that the bandwidth allocated to Peer-to-Peer (”P2P”) usage for residential customers is limited to 4 to 12 KB/s upstream and 8 to 150 KB/s downstream. Among corporate customers, this equipment is only used upon request if a corporate customer wishes to manage its internal traffic in a more efficient manner.

All documentation and submissions regarding this public consultation are posted on the ICTA website.

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Comments (31)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I would like to offer a very big THANK YOU to the staff and directors of the ICTA for an excellent decision that protects the interests of the people of these islands. Well done ICTA. Please continue to consult with the people on these critical issues and please continue to protect their interests.

  2. Dennis Smith says:

    I have no sympathy for the various service providers. They are riding a gravy train in Grand Cayman. Over 20 years ago I read that the cost of any international phone call was, get this, hold your breath — – $.0017 cents not 17 cents per minute .17 of a single US penny per minute.And distance doesn’t increase the cost at all.

    I was paying what? $1.20 CI per minute in Cayman.

    My phone bill was higher than the rent for my prestigious retail store downtown. I can’t begin to imagine what the law and accounting firms were paying C&W per month for all those conference calls to clients. Somewhere I read that Cable and Wireless’s Cayman operation was its most profitable business in the world (ROI). A virtual gold mine from a few square miles of offshore finance and no taxes to boot.

    I use a Digicel prepaid to call friends in Jamaica. The 24 hr 200 min plan costs CI $3.00 per day that’s 1.5 cents per min for Caribbean wide calling. I ask a Digicel executive about the 200 min calling plan once and he told me that they were making a fortune from it. Yet if I make a local Digicel call they pull about 30 cents CI per minute out of my account.

    I expect that their margins on the Internet service are just as profitable.

  3. Peter says:

    DPI is an extremely disturbing trend that plagues both the US and Europe, and governments over there have no problem living up to the "big brother"/"all seing eye" moniker. That ICTA now challenges local ISPs here in CI is very encouraging. From experience I know that Westel and Digicel practices DPI. If turn on my torrent client to download a free linux distribution from a university via the torrent protocol, it initially downloads relatively swiftly only to grind to a close halt after a few minutes. If I activate a US based VPN service prior to downloading (which the DPI can’t "sniff") it comes down much faster. There are other tools too, such as Peerguardian and so called onion routing tools that people can use to get away from illegal snooping by ISPs.

    Commenting on Anonymus that claim that P2P’s legality is "questionable". P2P is not more or less questionable legal than anything else. It’s just a tool. Would people agree to install a GPS in their cars and let an authority monitor them everywhere they went on the island, and remotely control them and force people to lower their speed "to save lives", or even disable their cars? The rhetoric could go something like -"cars are used to commit crimes such speeding, illegal parking, for theft and for delivering and storing drugs, or whatever.

    I’d be surprised if anybody would agree to that based on such notions. In a similar way, there is no reason why we should agree to be monitored on-line. Not in a so called free society, a democracy.

  4. Dennie Warren Jr. says:

    Nuff respect for the ICTA on this issue!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I never thought I’d say this but I am actually reasonably content with the LIME internet service. Having tried both the digicel box which was completely useless and very very slow, and trying Weststar internet via the cable, which had ok speeds WHEN it worked, which unfortunately was not very often.

    It has its moments but generally my 2mb LIME service has always shown acceptable speeds even when downloading and playing online on the PS3.

    It’s a little overpriced and a rip that you have to pay line rental on top even if you don’t want phone service but the internet service is I believe the best available on Cayman. OK this is not saying a lot as the others are so bad, but it is the best of a bad lot.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Waaa waaaa waaaa

    It really annoys me when people who abuse a service whine about any efforts to stop the abuse.

    The P2P service is of questionable legality but that detracts from the real problem.

    I am sure that all the whiners are aware of the problems which the service providers in the United States are facing because of the abuse of the unlimited data plans by a few users. The result is that users of smartphones now pay for blocks of data capacity. unlimited data bandwidth is a thing is the past.

    Why don’t the whiners start a campaign to get CUC to charge a flat rate for an unlimited amount of electricity? This is in effect what the silly comments above equate to.

    Why do a few people expect that for a low monthly fee  they should be allowed to setup their home computers to download on a 24/7 basis movies and music for which they don’t pay  and dominate the finite amount of bandwidth which is available to the ISPs who operate legally here.

    If you want unlimited bandwidth with a guaranteed speed why don’t you pay for that service? Until you do then you don’t have any grounds for a complaint!

     

    • Dred says:

      I pay for 2MB and I use my 2MB how is that abuse? I am certainly not getting 3MB or 4MB. I find it hard to understand how you can rationalise abuse when the client is only using what he has paid for.

       

    • Dred says:

      Actually you are the one waaaa waaaa ing because the ICTA ruled against the ISPs.

      So waaaaaaaaa yourself.

      • Anonymous says:

        There is no suggestion that I disagree with the ICTA ruling so I don’t know where that comment comes from.

        If you pay a toll to drive on a highway would you expect to drive at the speed limit all the time regardless of the number of other vehicles using the highway that have also paid the toll? The internet is after all only a data highway with a finite amount of capacity and like a super highway you can pay a higher toll to achieve a higher speed.

        • Dred says:

          Not the same. I am not just paying a toll I am being told that I can drive 40mph across and then someone is coming along and saying Oops what we didn’t say is that for only 5 feet at a time.

          Fact is I pay for 2mb and that is all I want to use MY 2MB not yours but MINE problem is they sell 2MB to me and expect to share it with 10 other people. So in effect it’s more like selling someone a piece of land and then reselling it to 10 other people and saying well you can all use it just not all at once.

          Your arguement is as silly as theirs is. I buy 2MB I want 2MB cause that’s what I paid for. I can NEVER abuse that because I can not force the system to give me 3MB so the most I can do is to use all of the 2MB I bought all the time.

          End of story period. The telecoms in Cayman has been raping us uncessantly for decades. Look at what happened to C&W when competition came in. Calls to the US went from CI$1.20/min to what CI$0.30/min. We didn’t get digital cellular until companies who used digital were coming in. Dialup. We didn’t get flat rate internet until they couldn’t hold it back from us any longer. How many millions and millions they made off of us during dialup days. ISPs deserve anything they get now.

          Does anyone remember when they use to charge us for cell phone charges both ways? God. The things they did to us over the ages.

          Now we need go after CUC for their party they been having on our behalf also.

          • Anonymous says:

            Absolutely! If I pay through the nose for 2MB access then I fully expect full, unrestricted, 24/7 use of that bandwidth.

            The P2P "illegal" argument is crap. P2P downloading is not the only high bandwidth demand use of the ‘Net. I enjoy fully legal online video streams, some are free and some subscription.  In high-def with other use of the Net happening at the same time, this can push the connection to the limit.  But I am doing nothing illegal or wrong. High speed access is why I bought a more expensive access and now I DO expect full and unrestricted use of my paid-for bandwidth!

        • Anonymous says:

          No! You analogy is somewhat misleading.

          "Internet" speed equates to number of "packets" or information allowed to traverse the users access to the provider’s "pipe" in a specified time period. It is properly equated with "bandwidth". And bandwidth is how the providers advertise and sell us the access. The actual speed the electrons or light bursts move through a wire or optical cable is pretty much a constant.

          The providers market and sell subscriptions based on network speed; in other words a connection that is supposed to pass a specified mass of data per second through our access connection to their network, and THAT is what we are paying for.

          If you want to use the tollway analogy: It is as if the tollway providers are advertising and selling us access to drive a specified number of automobiles through the tollway, let’s say 1000 vehicles per hour (1Kv/h). But then the tollway providers try to put a limit on us when we actually do constantly push vehicles through at the 1Kv/h limit. If I paid good money for 1Kv/h tollway access, then I certainly WOULD expect to have full 1Kv/h access 24/7/365. It is not my problem if everyone else who paid for 1Kv/h access expects the same, that is the provider’s worry not mine. They have my money, I expect full use of what they advertised and sold me: unrestricted use of my 1Kv/h tollway access "bandwidth".

          The providers’ greedy and deceptive marketing ploys are a root of the problem.

    • Anonymous says:

      And then there are the rest of us that pay for 4mb (for example) download speeds and don’t get it. P2P usage is not illegal at all. Some of the contect being downloaded is copyrighted but there is an awful amount of legal content on there too.

      I pay for an unlimited service and just because I like to watch HD film trailer and enjoy online gaming, does not mean I am breaking thelaw and should have my net speeds throttled.

      CUC do not offer a flat rate service, because there is a big incremental cost to them per unit of electricity used. If they did offer this service and suddenly turned off the lights half way through the month then they are doing what the ISPs are doing. The ISPs advertise an unlimited service but in reality are not providing it. If CUC charged for more units than you were allowed to use you would be complaining.

      The incremental cost of an ISP giving extra bandwidth is very small with optical cables and even older telephone wires etc offering ever cheaper wholesale bandwidth. Despite real costs of wholesale bandwidth reducing massively in the past 3-4 years, the prices they charge for each level has actually increased.

  7. Anonymous says:

    As stated by Anonymouse I’ll have to re-read my WestTel contract. I don’t recall seeing anything about throttling when I signed up.

    It is hard to believe that LIME is coming out better than its competitors, especially when years ago we had to go to an anonomiser website just be able to use BestNetCall and other alternative phone systems.

    I’ll be doing a speed test tonight.

    • Anonymous says:

       

      Conducting a speed test is all well and good but that’s not the end of it. I am the earlier poster with the Gold service from WestTel. If you go to speedtest.net you may very well find that both your upload and download speeds do match with what your ISP is contracted to provide. However, if you go to pingtest.net the story now unfolds and the standard of (very poor) service becomes very apparent. My ‘Gold’ service is rated as F: Very poor. Real-time Internet application performance will suffer greatly on such a connection. Test to other servers to confirm the result, but definitely talk to your ISP about troubleshooting the issue… and yet if you talk to WestTel they will either make out the problem is with your computer or even more likely, they won’t respond at all.
       
      I am at work, a large office paying for a supposedly commercial service. They don’t seem to get much better than I do at home. Pingtest.net rates their service as: D:Concerning. Most online applications will not perform well but should function in some capacity. Try testing to other servers to verify the result. You might need to contact your ISP for help. The result has been verified – We are getting a poor service from our ISP.
       
      So when you (and anyone else for that matter) go home tonight – try testing at pingtest.net and get a more accurate description of how your ISP is performing!
    • Dred says:

      Actually Lime is trying now to join the Westel/Digicel throttling camp also.

  8. Dred says:

    I want to be the first to applaud the ruling of the ICTA. This is a giant step towards protecting the rights of users.

    I find it ludicrous for ISP to even use the words of abuse when it comes to their clients use of their internet service they pay for. You tell me I have X speed and I pay you for it and then you tell me because I actually USE it I abuse it!!

    You see what ISP’s do is borderline false advertising. They market that you are buying say 2MB down but in the fine print or maybe not even in fine print is the words "Burst Speed". Truth is 99% of the people who buy these packages believe they have all rights to that speed 24/7. ISPs do not.

    What ISPs actually hope to accomplish is to take say a 10MB pipelineand sell that same line say 20 times. Their hope is that each client does not use their 2MB they paid for all the time. Problems happen when 3 or more of these people start using their 2MB constantly. This means the other 17 will be sharing say 4MB. I know it don’t quite work this way but theorectically you get what I mean.

    I have used Westel and I left them for that very reason. They decided what software I could use over the internet service I paid for. That to me is rediculous.

    Again I applaud the ICTA for taking this step.

  9. Anonymouse says:

    Interesting. I must go and check my WestTel ‘contract’ (well, find out if there is one might be a more accurate phrase) to see if they make any referecne to allocating various amounts of bandwidth to P2P services. (And how they define them, of course.) I think the ICTA made the right decision.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Does LIME have a stated cap on P2P traffic for their DSL users? They clearly limit P2P in some way from my experience of their service, DPI or not.

    • Dred says:

      Currently I am not experiencing any problems with lime via P2P. But from the looks of it they are thinking about doing something.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or maybe it could be that you are using all your bandwidth, or you are downloading off a slow server, or your modem doesn’t allow connections as the connection port is not open.  There are many things out of the ISP control that affect P2P downloading.

      I have no problems using P2P with LIME, but my neighbors tell me it takes weeks to download things I can get in hours on their Westtel connection.

       

  11. Anonymous says:

    I thought the whole idea of this was that the customer would be the one benefiting. Not one company who can’t match the service of the other.

    In a time like this when one company is trying to do more and pass on savings that would benefit the company and the customer alike. These people are disputing upgrades.

    There should not be a dispute for upgrades such as this. Especially if it decreases the cost of overhead, the deals, and much improved service gets passed down to the customer.

    What’s the point of competition if they’re not allowed to compete. If one company can find a way, the other company can find a way.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well that’s just it – with throttling accounts, the customer most definitely does not benefit from an improved service let alone the potential for invasion of privacy.

    • Dred says:

      Actually truth be known it’s only the ISP bottomline that profits. The ISP main objective to have us much accounts tied to one set bandwidth as they can.

      Clients pay for a service and they expect to get the service. If ISPs did not cut things so tightly (to maximize their profits) they wouldn’t run into these problems as often as they do.

      I fully understand it’s just business but it’s equally true also that part of business is not having things work out exactly as desired.

      In the end the ISP owes the client a line capable of 2MB if he has paid for one. They have to provide it so this really shouldn’t benefit the client per say.

       

  12. Anonymous says:

    Get ready for the rates to go up.  There is no way the ISPs can handle the demand for P2P and provide everyone the bandwidth they pay for.

     

    This is a stupid decision and will make everything on the net except P2P suffer. 

    Boo!

    • Dred says:

      A win for the good guys.

      People have a right to do what they want with THEIR internet (legally). If I pay for 2MB down I have a right to all of that speed. I am not asking for 3MB only my 2MBs.

    • Speed Bump-Avoided says:

       "will make everything on the net except P2P suffer."

      That is one of the stupidest statements I’ve read about DPI and ISP throttling. If you are experiencing slow Internet speeds, do a Speedtest (http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest/) try the New York test, I get the best speeds usually from this state and then try Chicago. If the speeds are not what you are paying for then contact the ISP you use and find out why.

      Maybe folks are downloading/streaming data that requires more bandwidth. Your kid(s), roommates, house guests, open Wireless connection etc, etc, etc is overloaded by the use of the above scenarios. Food for thought. Now eat it!

    • Anonymous says:

      With DPI the ISPs could basically intercept and read both header and packet data in the traffic. Whether they would actually read and interpret the data is another question but it would definately be a worrying risk for our offshore clients for law firms such as Appleby, Walkers, Maples et all. With Cayman starting to struggle and feel the pinch we need every advantage in the global business community to attract business not lose it. WestTEL, LIME, Digicel and TeleCayman should look at the main issue of no "on-island" peering and poor subscription rates on the MAYA-1 cable.

      CNS note: In its response to the ICTA questions, TeleCayman stated that it did not use DPI, and had no plans to use DPI or similar technologies.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Good stuff ICTA, but if WestTel are not throttling our accounts they are doing something to restrict them.  I am paying for a Gold service with them and can barely download a thing because packets are constantly being lost.  I was also reliably informed by an ex-WestTel worker who came to assist me, that they do throttle their customers accounts and have been doing for some time.  He said he had removed such restrictions on several customers accounts experiencing similar difficulties to my own.  Its a pity ICTA can’t also be kind of internet industry watchdogs/police, to encourage better quality services and value for money from our internet service providers here.

    • Dred says:

      Westel was throttling accounts a few years back when I was with them. I had at one time two ISPs to my home LIME and Westel. The difference in download speeds were night and day. Westel was maxing out at like 10-15KBs and Lime was 100-150KBs.

      After speaking to people at Westel over the course of a few days I came to the conclusion they did throttling. They would not admit but in so many words said so. They kept kicking the software I was using saying it was causing the slowdown but could not explain why Lime did not have same issues and refused to come out to see what I wassaying.

      I left them shortly thereafter.

    • Anonymous says:

      they can, if you are getting consistently lousy service, write the ICTA and complain!