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The Looming End of Network Neutrality and How to Protect Yourself

Let’s get this out right up front. I am a strong advocate for network neutrality.

ISPs like Comcast say that these regulations strangle innovation, and that all the concerns about how they might abuse their position are just paranoia.

First a quick review. Network Neutrality is the principle that ISPs should not discriminate between the different sources of traffic on their network. My YouTube, your Facebook, his BitTorrent, her porn site, all should have the same access to, and performance on, the internet. In effect, the internet is like water or electricity, a utility delivered to your doorstep. Those utilities don’t get to control how I use those resources, or limit my ability to plug in certain brands of appliance. Similarly, the utilities should not be able to inject things into the water or send unwanted messages over your electric wires. They are just providing a simple service.

The big ISPs have a long history of abusing their near monopoly status. Way back in 2007, I wrote a blog on how Comcast was blocking BitTorrent traffic. Despite their repeated denials, the Associated Press was finally able to prove that they were.

In 2013, Comcast was called out for injecting code into the websites users were visiting. At that time the code was mostly notifying users that they were close to their data cap. To do this, Comcast is intercepting your connection to the website, reading the content, then modifying it to add their code before sending it on to you. They, and other ISPs, were still at it in 2015 despite all the backlash.

Now in late 2017, partly because of the Network Neutrality debate, we are seeing reports of this again. There is no way to opt out of this, and for most Americans, there is only one choice for a fast network connection where they live. Changing providers is simply not an option.

American ISPs have generally avoided obvious throttling of commercial content because of the threat of enforcement of Network Neutrality regulations, and the possibility of stronger ones to come if they did. They are claiming that if the regulations are removed, they will continue to act in good faith.

While the companies won’t let you opt out, you do have a technical way directly preventing them from messing with your traffic, a VPN. Services like Anonymizer create an encrypted path past your ISP out to the internet. There is no way for the ISP to see the contents of your communication either to modify it, or to throttle it.

If this is an issue that you feel is important too, you can make the issue more visible with some of the techniques and suggestions here.

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  • The End of Network Neutrality: Implications and Protections - Anonymizer · December 21, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    […] The recently reversed Network Neutrality regulations had classified broadband providers as “telecommunication services” or “common carriers” which are not allowed to discriminate based on the source or destination of the traffic. That did nothing to prevent snooping or modification of your traffic. In fact, ISPs have a long history of doing just that. […]


  • Christian Stewart · January 4, 2018 at 7:56 am

    While the implications of the end of Net Neutrality on users are pretty clear, what do you think its effect will be on privacy and tracking, etc.?


    • Author comment by lance · January 4, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      The network neutrality rules don’t appear to directly apply to privacy and tracking issues. However, the changes do act as a signal to ISPs that the government will take a much more hands off approach to regulation which is likely to lead them to increased use of tracking and privacy invading technologies.


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