Future of the Internet Symposium: The Role of Infrastructure Management in Determining Internet Freedom

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3 Responses

  1. Frank Pasq says:

    What an illuminating post–thanks so much for focusing on the interconnection arrangements, which are really under-scrutinized. I also wanted to note other problems with secrecy in the field. For example, a recent article discussed “The Secrecy of FCC Broadband Infrastructure Statistics” (31 Hastings Comm. & Ent L.J. 339 (2009)). Search engine algorithms are also protected by trade secrecy, and according to a recent article even the revenue breakdown for a company like Google is rarely leaked.* I think all these closed systems make it hard to theorize about the “present of the internet,” let alone the future!

    * at

  2. Steven Bellovin says:

    Private interconnection agreements are indeed very important, but are little known outside of the Internet operational community. Beyond the concerns expressed by Laura, it’s important to note that interconnection agreements contain policy statements. For example, ISP A might buy limited transit from ISP B, but only for certain destinations, certain kinds of traffic, and subject to certain bandwidth constraints. Put another way, if your ISP has purchased transit via two different upstream ISPs, how does it decide which one to use to send your traffic to a given destination? There is a technical answer, spelled out in assorted (very complex) RFCs, but the technical mechanisms set up by network engineers are intended to reflect the business deals reached by management. Setting up these mechanisms is itself a very difficult and challenging task.

    Interconnection policies are quite opaque from the outside. The contracts generally contain confidentiality clauses, and it’s been shown mathematically that it’s infeasible to deduce them from the outside. This raises some interesting legal and societal questions. First, they’re related to the whole network neutrality question. Part of what (some) ISPs want to do involves interconnections: preferred traffic could be routed differently, over a faster but more expensive path. How can, say, the FCC verify that ISP policies are are in compliance with some future regulatory scheme? You can’t tell from the outside; you’d have to look at the contracts and at the technical configurations — but the technical configurations are, as I said, quite complex and hard to understand. Auditing, in other words, will be very difficult.

    Another question is a matter of contract law: how does a customer verify that they’re getting what they paid for? Remember that you pay your ISP; you have no business relationship with anyone else. What are the service guarantees you’re receiving? How can you verify that you are indeed receiving that service? You can’t even ask to see the interconnection contracts; they’re confidential.