FCC Filing: “At Least One” ISP Violating Net Neutrality By Blocking Encrypted Traffic

Broadband and mobile companies are happy to claim that we don’t need new rules to protect net neutrality, because even without rules in place, they’ve never blocked traffic in any harmful way and don’t particularly want to in the future either. However, one internet business says they have proof it happens — and the way the ISPs are doing it can have a huge effect not only on the quality of internet traffic, but on the safety of it, too.

A company called Golden Frog Tech points to the issues in a filing with the FCC (PDF), as tech news site TechDirt first noticed. In the filing, the company cites “two recent examples that show that users are not receiving the open, neutral, and uninterrupted service to which the Commission says they are entitled.”

Golden Frog’s secure VPN is the service a frustrated FiOS customer used back in July to demonstrate and prove how Verizon was deliberately allowing Netflix traffic to bottleneck. And that Netflix customer is Golden Frog’s first example.

His experiences and similar experiences from other users, Golden Frog concludes, proves “Internet access providers are “mismanaging” their networks to their own users’ detriment.”

The second example the company raises, however, downright scary. Golden Frog claims that “a wireless broadband Internet access provider” (they do not name the company) is directly interfering with a common e-mail encryption technology.

“This broadband provider,” Golden Frog explains, “is overwriting the content of users’ communications and actively blocking STARTTLS encryption. This is a man-in-the-middle attack that prevents customers from using the applications of their choosing and directly prevents users from protecting their privacy.”

Golden Frog’s comment describes the technical nature of the interference at length, but summarizes for laymen:

The practice in issue and in use by this provider is conceptually similar to the way that Comcast used packet reset headers to block the use of BitTorrent in 2007. The result is that wireless Internet users that wish to protect their email communications with basic encryption protocols cannot do so when on this particular wireless provider’s network.

Golden Frog and TechDirt frame the issue as one of net neutrality. All traffic, they argue, is not being treated equally, and the unequal way in which it is being handled is causing harm to consumers. Internet users are “not just losing their right to use the applications and services of their choosing,” Golden Frog says, “but also their privacy.”

Encrypting your e-mail and seeking higher levels of privacy not only aren’t illegal, but also are sometimes a very good idea. It’s hard to see how a carrier could justify intentionally interfering with such traffic as commercially reasonable discrimination.

Golden Frog also points out that no current or previously existing rule prevents wireless broadband companies from interfering with the traffic they carry in this way, because mobile companies have not been subject to the same open internet regulations as wired broadband carriers. Therefore, they say, we need better rules — and they need to apply to wireless and wireless carriers equally.

The frequent claim that “rules banning blocking and unreasonable discrimination are solutions in search of a problem is flatly wrong,” Golden Frog concludes. “There have been problems in the past and there are problems now.”

Revealed: ISPs Already Violating Net Neutrality To Block Encryption And Make Everyone Less Safe Online [TechDirt via BGR]