Testing of Conroy’s internet filter flawed: expert

Editor’s note: Mark Newton is a senior engineer with one of Australia’s major ISPs. Mark has written the article below as a guest columnist for APCmag.com.

It’s difficult to imagine what possessed Senator Conroy to claim as he did on Tuesday that his trial results indicated that his censorship plan could be implemented without performance degradation.

Normally I don’t spend a lot of time talking about speed because there are so many better arguments to use against the ALP’s plan.

For example it’s simple for someone who hasn’t been following closely to understand that a Government with a habit of leaking blacklists probably oughtn’t be trusted to maintain a list of the worst-of-the-worst Internet content and distributing it to 600 ISPs. That way lies madness and the only possible outcome is to enable global consumers of illegal material next time Conroy’s band of rocket surgeons accidentally publishes the list on the Internet.

But Senator Conroy has now spent two years insisting that speed is the only datapoint that matters so let’s have a quick look at what his report says about it.

But first some context and history.

Senator Conroy first released the Technical Testing Framework defining the report’s requirements in November 2008. That’s ancient history in Internet terms; You may recall that in November 2008 Senator Conroy was still running late with his Expert Working Group report on the original FTTN NBN proposal.

That NBN proposal was to result in Australian homes and businesses receiving services from an FTTN network which would deliver a minimum of 12 megabits per second.

So upon its release the ISP Censorship trial document dutifully asked on page four for the testers to measure performance at up to 12 megabits per second.

Conroy wore the criticism about how the maximum speed he was interested in testing was the minimum speed the NBN required and pushed on towards testing. For all the talk about speed he clearly wasn’t interested in performance for people who’d be getting 20 or 30 megabits out of the NBN.

Then the world changed: In April 2009 the Government abandoned its NBN plans announcing a new 100 megabit per second FTTP to replace it.

But they didn’t change their censorware testing protocols when the new proposal emerged. So when Enex won the contract to test censorship systems all they had to do was run them up to 12 megabits. Left hand meet right hand. Right hand mee– oh never mind.

But the miasma didn’t stop there. It’s bad enough that the testing protocols only required testing to 12% of the NBN’s intended speed but Enex made it worse by ignoring the Technical Testing Framework and only running their tests up to 8 megabits per second less than one twelfth of the NBN’s intended speed. Appendix 1 in their report lays it all out in pictorial form with graph after graph showing flatline performance at between 7 and 8 megabits per second except for those ISPs who couldn’t even deliver that much.

So technically none of the tested systems met the Government’s requirement.

With such an embarrassing result it’s no wonder that Senator Conroy sat on the report for three months before he raised the courage to lob it into the debate like a hand-grenade stinkbomb before running for the hills and leaving his long-suffering media guy to take the flack.

Those of us on my side of this debate welcome the report because it confirms much of what we’ve been saying for ages: overblocking happens circumvention is so close to inevitable that the censorship systems are as useless as chocolate teapots they’re expensive and they’re a dead-set management nightmare.

But one thing that the report doesn’t make any definitive statement about at all is speed degradation in an FTTP environment.

If Senator Conroy is going to tell us that we’re all going to get access to a 100 megabit per second FTTP network he can’t also tell us that it’ll be immune to slowdown from his censorship proposal.

He might have been able to tell us that if he’d bothered to test it but despite two years of promises and delays he clearly couldn’t be bothered and has absolutely no data to back up his performance claims.

I’d just love to hear him explain that one. The more he talks about this subject the more he makes a fool out of himself so I think it’s in Australia’s best interest that he prattle on about it for as long as he likes.

So over to you Mr. Conroy. How’s that NBN looking? And don’t hold back tell us what you really think.

The views expressed by Mark Newton here are his own as a private individual.