P2P Sharing Being Blocked Around the World, Where Next?

Last week, we told you about peer-to-peer and torrent file-sharing sites were being systematically shut down all over China. Not too long before that, we let you know about file-sharing being monitored by a major ISP in the UK.

Now, Israeli ISPs are throttling P2P network access, too, as confirmed in a report just released by an Israeli cyberlaw attorney and a partner news site. Whether you consider file-sharing an affront to content creators and copyright-holders everywhere or whether you see P2P networks as a permissible and valid way for users to exchange data, this trend is gaining considerable momentum around the world. Where will P2P restrictions pop up next?

In their research, tech attorney Jonathan Klinger and researchers involved with the Israeli website Ynet found that two of the three major ISPs in Israel are interfering with user traffic and might be conducting deep packet inspection.

Traffic shaping is a practice sometimes used by some ISPs to discourage the use of certain applications. A couple of years ago, Comcast caught some heat from users and media for filtering user traffic when torrent files were being downloaded, even causing some to speculate that the ISP was violating U.S. law by prohibiting this traffic. Eventually, Comcast did strike a deal with BitTorrent to allow protocol-agnostic traffic management, but only after the sparring had been brought to the attention of the Federal Communications Commission.

It’s currently unclear whether Israeli ISPs are filtering traffic due to piracy concerns or simple due to bandwidth concerns, as shared files can often amount to multi-gigabyte, hours-long downloads. However, traffic-shaping that blocks P2P protocols can also apply to VoIP calls, IM clients and other applications. Although P2P traffic is associated with illegal downloads, nothing about the protocols themselves is inherently illegal. “The element common to all P2P services,” reads the Israeli report, “is the lack of economical benefit to the ISP.”

Klinger noted that although complaints have been brought to media outlets and ISPs since 2007, the ISPs have typically ignored these criticisms. Netvision and Internet Zahav were the two ISPs determined by this research to be blocking file-sharing traffic. Bezeq International was the third ISP investigated. Although Bezeq was cleared by this particular investigation, a plug-in introduced last year from popular bittorrent client Vuze shows that this ISP, too, throttles and disrupts file-sharing network traffic.

In response to the findings presented by Ynet and Klinger, all three of the investigated ISPs gave typically canned responses claiming to offer users excellent surfing experiences. Israeli Communications Ministry rep Dr. Yechiel Shabi told Ynet, “The research materials relayed to us paint a picture which arouses the need for thorough examination. After we become familiar with the study’s findings, we shall consider the need for interference, supervision or regulation of the matter.”

So, while we wait to see what results this report will yield in Israel, we are left to ponder the perturbing question: Where will traffic-shaping pop up next to prevent P2P activity? Take another look at the findings from Vuze’s traffic-monitoring plug-in. You’ll see that ISPs around the world – including Verizon, BellSouth, AOL, AT&T, Charter, Road Runner and ISPs in France, Italy, Germany, Poland, the UK and the Middle East, to name a few locations – are already interrupting traffic.

Vuze’s researched was released in April 2008; in August, the FCC declared that ISPs should not be allowed to target and interrupt P2P applications. Still, suspicious Americans and other users around the world should consider using a tool such as the EFF’s Switzerland to determine whether torrent downloads and VoIP calls are being interrupted by their ISP.

Do Israeli or other ISPs have the right or the moral imperative to throttle traffic in this manner? Do they have the need or right to examine the applications, files, and protocols being employed by users on their networks? Or do ISPs around the globe need to read the wiki on net neutrality and get their act together? Let us know your experiences and opinions in the comments.

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