Network Throttling is Big Business

How exactly do major ISPs determine which types of traffic to let through unhampered and which types to throttle or block? With deep-packet inspection devices, such as the $800,000 Procera Networks PacketLogic PL10000. Ars Technica reports on the latest ammunition in ISPs' arsenal:

"The PL10000 can handle up to 5 million subscribers and can track 48 million real-time data flows. That's certainly a potent piece of hardware, but larger ISPs will need more. That's why Procera designed the new machines with full support for synchronizing traffic flows where return traffic might be routed to a different PacketLogic machine."

In other words, large ISPs will need several of these $800K appliances to adequately monitor and shape traffic. Deep-packet inspection is becoming so important to ISPs that an entire business ecosystem is building up around it. Hardware, software, and service providers are ratcheting up their tools to help ISPs analyze and shape network traffic. The ISPs claim that the technology enables them to better identify security threats and bandwidth overloads; charge for different tiers of service; and enforce bandwidth quotas. Both proponents and opponents of net neutrality are feeding money to lobbyists to fight their battles in Washington D.C. Even politicians, such as former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabe, are taking stands.

The momentum appears to increasing now more than ever in the network throttling debate--with a new net neutrality bill just proposed in Congress. There is a lot of money at stake in this fight, which is quickly appearing to be one of free speech vs. big business. Many Internet users, such as those who don't use P2P applications and don't download lots of files, feel that these issues don't impact them. That might not be a safe assumption. With ISPs seriously considering bandwidth quotas and additional charges for allowing certain types of Internet traffic, such as VoIP, the issues surrounding this debate might be closer to home than many realize.