Friday, May 6, 2011

Another busy summer and some peer-to-peer info

Hi everyone,

Well we have had a very busy summer. Since October 2010 the number of Zenbu WiFi hotspots has increased from 500 to over 680 and on 21st February 2011 we had our 2 millionth connection! It was only April 2010 that we had our millionth connection so in under a year we have had over 1 million internet sessions on our network. Also through the first few months of 2011 on average over 2000 people per day have used our service, about double the number of users in 2010. So on the growth front it certainly seems like good progress!

Now, we have recently been contacted by several people concerned about the "new copyright law" (the "Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill") that has recently been introduced. This has been getting a fair amount of media attention but fundamentally does not change the legality of anything. It is already illegal to download copyright material without the consent of the copyright holder and this bill just "seeks to amend Part 6 of the Copyright Act 1994 to provide more effective means for copyright owners to enforce their rights against people involved in unauthorised sharing of copyright material via the Internet (infringing file sharing). It aims to provide copyright owners with a fast-track alternative to existing remedies under the Act". So apparently nothing is becoming any more or less illegal due to this bill, only the means of resolving copyright disputes are changing.

How does this affect people sharing their internet connection with others? Well really it shouldn't change anything as it is already illegal to download copyright material without authorization.

As far as the Zenbu system is concerned, by design it is prohibitively expensive to download big files (like music, movies etc) regardless of whether it is done legally or illegally. For example using an inefficient protocol such as Bittorrent (one popular peer-to-peer file sharing system that has relatively high protocol overheads) it would probably cost upwards of $100 to download a movie - certainly not something many people will do! So unless you are providing free internet access, people will not download movies, music, tv shows etc over the Zenbu connection as it is simply too expensive. This protects your broadband connection from heavy use which would leave you with either a big bill, slow speeds for the rest of the month or at best a slow connection while people download movies and it also helps protect you from "copyright infringement". Regardless of whether people do it legally (using iTunes, Digirama or even peer-to-peer software) or illegally (using Bittorrent or other peer-to-peer software) it is a good idea to minimize the transfer of large files over your broadband connection.

Other than with the disincentive of price provided by the Zenbu system, people concerned about the risk of peer-to-peer file downloading can generally block file-sharing protocols at their broadband modem. The administration page of the broadband modem will generally have a "firewall" or "filter" option which should allow you to easily filter/block peer-to-peer traffic. It is much more likely that people with unrestricted access to the internet (staff, your children, friends etc) will use file-sharing than anyone connected via the Zenbu connection (unless you provide people with free internet access). Because it is all traffic over the broadband connection that needs restricting the best place to block peer-to-peer traffic is it at your broadband modem (or at your ISP).

If your existing broadband modem doesn't have such an option it would probably be worth calling your ISP and asking them if they can provide (or at least recommend) one that does. Many broadband modems supplied by ISPs are pretty poor quality so this could be a good opportunity to get a better, more reliable, more functional (and often much faster) modem. Not only should it allow you to block peer-to-peer traffic but it should also provide a much improved internet experience for you and your customers.

Here is an article with information on some broadband modems commonly provided by ISPs in New Zealand - The information provided is in-keeping with our experiences of different broadband modems. Basically a good modem should never need restarting to stay online and should provide good speed and reliable connectivity to your computer(s)/devices. As well as the modems recommended at the link above I highly recommend DrayTek modems. We use the Draytek 2700e (some other DrayTek modems are here) for one of our broadband connections and in over 18 months it has not once needed restarting and has been super reliable (and yes it has the option of blocking peer-to-peer services).  Of course you should confirm that any equipment or service you are considering buying will actually do the job you want with the manufacturer or your ISP before you purchase it.

Please be aware that completely blocking all peer-to-peer traffic is technically very difficult, if not impossible, as the peer-to-peer traffic can be encrypted, different ports can be used etc. and a determined user will likely get around any blocks that are put in place.  There is an aspect of cat-and-mouse between peer-to-peer file sharing software developers and the network administrators that attempt to block or disrupt the peer-to-peer traffic.  Naturally our politicians are a long way from the front lines of this technical battle ground!  A combination of blocking or restricting traffic at your modem and pricing that makes the use of peer-to-peer file sharing unattractive is likely the best solution available.

Edit: Additional information on the copyright amendment bill is available at

Well that has turned into quite a long post. Any Twitterers out there who prefer things in smaller doses might like to follow our twitter feed.


The Zenbu Team.

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