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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 11/22/2010

Q&A with OpenDNS: We're being blocked, FCC should act on net neutrality

By Cecilia Kang

opendns.jpgAs the Federal Communications Commission grapples with the timing of a net neutrality vote and Republican lawmakers demand the agency drop it, companies like OpenDNS fear the issue is getting mired in politics.

And that could crush startups like them, says OpenDNS founder David Ulevitch. He says the San Francisco domain name service is already being blocked by Verizon Wireless. He fears other Internet service providers trying to compete with it could do the same. update: A Verizon Wireless spokeswoman said Monday its network engineers "see no issue from our end" and that the service isn't being blocked.

Since it launched with a couple million dollars in angel investment four years ago, OpenDNS has attracted 20 million customers – consumers and businesses such as Staples, Century 21 and Fuji Film – who prefer the service’s domain name look-up service to that of their Internet service provider. Why? Ulevitch says the company is able to more quickly translate Web page addresses like www.washingtonpost.com to The Post’s IP address to serve up sites to users. Its fail rate is zero, compared with ISPs, he says. Check out a review of OpenDNS by the New York Times’ David Pogue for more details on how the service works.

Turns out, Ulevitch said in a recent phone interview, that carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Comcast and Time Warner cable have caught on to the value of their service. Open DNS is able to collect a lot of data about users and their Web surfing habits to serve up targeted ads for users who volunteer to have that information tracked.

The FCC won’t say what its plans are for net neutrality. Many analysts and experts outside the agency are betting on a vote in December. Even if FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski puts the proposed regulation on its agenda next month, the agency has to grapple with its questionable authority over broadband providers.

“There are some cable and phone companies out there that want to decide which apps you should get on your phone, which Internet sites you should look at, and what online videos you can download," a FCC official said in a statement after Republican House members criticized a proposal by Genachowski. "That’s regulating the Internet and that’s what the FCC is trying to stop.”

Here’s an edited interview with Ulevitch for one startup’s view of net neutrality:

Q: Look, net neutrality is just not popular right now in Washington. And ISPs are saying it’s a jobs killer. Do you think you’ve got a shot at a regulation in this Congress?
A: The main point is that we’ve created a massive economy built on the Internet. Fifteen years ago, the Nasdaq had like 12 high-tech companies. Now there are like 6,000 on the stock exchange. We create massive economic value.

Q: Why do you have a dog in this fight?
A: We just want a level playing field. Verizon Wireless is blocking us and there are reports that ISPs want to block OpenDNS. They don’t want third party domain name services.

Q: Why would they do this?
A: We have 20 million users, it’s free (for consumers) and we are making money. We serve search results and ads like Yahoo or Google to people who have opted in and chosen to use my service. So we monetize traffic that way. The ISPs see this as all this revenue they are leaving on the table that they believe belongs to them. I don’t know why they think so because it doesn’t belong to them.

Q: But why wouldn’t it belong to them, if they are providing domain name looks up for their subscribers?
A: Because the browser doesn’t belong to any service provider. But ISPs operate differently. Corporations and individuals are at the edge of the network and ISPs operate at the middle of the network and it would be inappropriate for them to make policy decisions at the edge of the network.

Q: Who else are you competing against?
A: We sit in an interesting place. Google has a Web browser and what they have done in Chrome is to take the address bar traffic back. If people use Chrome, we make less money on our service and that’s find by us because that is fair competition. I wouldn’t put Google on a pedestal for competition but they aren’t telling users not to use OpenDNS.

Q: What are ISPs doing today?
A: They do not want to see DNS traffic, queries and data streams leaving them. In the way we have monetized domain name services, they want to do what we do. But they aren't an opt-in service like we are, and they can also block us, which is what we are concerned about.

And they try to block us in crafty ways. There was a report of an ISP working group whose members said that for "security" reasons, they should block alternative DNS services.

By Cecilia Kang  | November 22, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  FCC, Net Neutrality, Verizon  
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Comments

Looks like your not speding enough money in the lobbying community. GOOD LUCK outspending Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cox!

Why is congress allowing the internet to gut local business (who charge state sales tax) Where are the F... state govenors on this issue? I mean the whole country cant work for Amazon or UPS. WTF

Net neutrality ACTUALLY means NO Regulation BY the broadband providers NOT the FCC. Try explaining THAT to congress.

Posted by: HTech | November 22, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I've been using OpenDNS for years and it also offers blocking services of it's own. They do give you total control of the blocking and let you decide if it's even turned on. I have porn sites and sites known to carry malicious software blocked by them. So, from my wired and wireless routers, you can't give in to your nasty side. I love it. It's easy to set up, and it works auto-magically too. OpenDNS is a great free service, and if my ISP ever blocks them, I'll change to another ISP.

Posted by: realneil | November 22, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I am already paying a handsome fee to my ISP for fairly slow "broadband" service. Now they want to log and store my browsing so they can target advertising to me? Screw that! Rock on OpenDNS!

Posted by: DVL1 | November 22, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Afterthought - Why isn't this seen as an unlawful restraint of interstate commerce?

Posted by: DVL1 | November 22, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm an OpenDNS customer. I love the service. It's excellent!

Also, +1 for net neutrality!

Regards,

~Eric
Tampa, Florida, USA

Posted by: vtel57 | November 22, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

But wait. I though Net Neutrality was "a solution in search of a problem."

Posted by: tkarr | November 22, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Net Neutrality is "double-edged sword". On the one hand it may help prevent a consumer's access to OpenDNS from being blocked. On the other hand, it will also be used by spammers and other "bad actors" to justify that their traffic shouldn't be blocked either. In a sense, Net Neutrality would prevent OpenDNS from blocking sites, destroying their whole purpose from a consumer point of view.

Instead, how about we encourage a strong market place where multiple ISPs can thrive and where consumers have a choice between ISPs that block their traffic and ISPs that don't?

I'm all for requiring an ISP to disclose whether or not they block their customer's traffic. But, I'm not at all for dictating how they run their business. That kills business...

-Bob

Posted by: rwsiv | November 22, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

The 'big picture' regarding the Internet & peripheral access (cellphones, wireless, cable, dsl, satellite) must include the discussion of breaking-up the duopolies created by At&t and Verizon. Each has grown through taxpayer subsidies, and each has benefitted from powerful lobbying, political 'donations' (At&t the most by any business in US), by colluding on their pricing/rate structures, and by writing 'laws' to protect themselves. If At&t and Verizon are allowed to continue business as usual, the future of the Internet will be one of only doing what's good for Verizon and At&t.

Posted by: CalvertWorthing | November 22, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

It seems it's time again for massive communication with the FCC & Congress from the people in favour of Net Neutrality.
Our action is the only reason Net Neutrality is still an option.
Time to let everyone we are still watching.
Send your e-mails, letters. petitions to your Congressional Representative & FCC now, before the FCC proposed December vote.
And of course it goes without saying don't forget to share this article.

Posted by: heraldmage | November 22, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

I use NameBench (an open-source DNS Benchmark Utility) and every time I run it I find that OpenDNS is a slower domain name look-up service than several others, including Google's free public DNS resolution service (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4).

http://code.google.com/p/namebench/

If speed is your primary parametric, there are better choices than OpenDNS.

Posted by: Post17 | November 22, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I did not find OpenDNS any faster during the time I used it. And, it seemed to serve more ads than my ISPs' DNS lookups do. I am sure David Ulevitch makes plenty of money by selling users' data to Rapleaf and other brokers, plus from ads. But, I am not convinced OpenDNS benefits consumers.

Posted by: query0 | November 23, 2010 3:23 AM | Report abuse

ISPs operate domain name caches to ease the traffic load on their networks. If users' computers try to bypass these caches to go to OpenDNS, the network is loaded down. ISPs have the right to direct users' DNS queries to their caches, just as they have the right to direct Web inquiries to their caches.

Posted by: LBrettGlass | November 23, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

This whole thing has been debunked.
http://www.digitalsociety.org/2010/11/another-net-neutrality-violation-debunked/

Posted by: GeorgeOu | November 24, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Ulevitch is simply a man trying to Dam the river upstream. He has made a great living pawning traffic away from small .com sites much in the way Google has, effectively shaping navigation in a self-serving way for his company; under the guise of a "helpful service". Let the ISPs burn him to the ground. The product his company offers is truly no better that Gator's virtual wallet of many years past. A parasite, holding itself out as a helper. Only this helper serves to shape net neutrality in an unholy way and that is bad for all website operators. Synopsis?: OpenDNS is a getting what it deserves. I hope it gets worse.

Posted by: technoblanket | November 25, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

http://www.digitalsociety.org/2010/11/another-net-neutrality-violation-debunked/

Another Net Neutrality ‘violation’ debunked.

In yet another case of a made-up conspiracy like the Craigslist blocking incident to drum up support for Internet regulation, OpenDNS founder David Ulevitch is misleading the public about Verizon Wireless supposedly blocking OpenDNS servers.  Ulevitch claims that Verizon Wireless is blocking OpenDNS which is an ad-supported Domain Name Service (DNS).

I’ve asked various people to test OpenDNS blocking who have access to Verizon Wireless and I’ve gotten a response from someone within Verizon.  He tested his Verizon Wireless data service from a PC tethered to his Droid (Android OS) phone and verified that OpenDNS is not blocked.  To verify this personally, I went to a Verizon Wireless store and tested a netbook with built-in Verizon 3G access.  I successfully queried an OpenDNS server using the “nslookup” command proving that Verizon Wireless was not blocking access to OpenDNS.  I also bought a 2-year contract with free MiFi device and tested it on my own computer from home and OpenDNS still works perfectly fine.

So what in the world could Ulevitch be complaining about?  Is it the Android OS based phones which has nothing to do with the network?  I quick Google search on Android OS DNS settings is that it’s easy to set in Wi-Fi but the setting is less exposed in the mobile network interface (3G).  But the 5th search result pointing to a forum post at XDA-Developers indicates that the setting can be configured with the “setprop” command in Android OS (which is a Linux based operating system).

Furthermore, the bigger threat and alternative to OpenDNS is Google DNS which is a faster DNS service because Google owns more servers that are distributed across the Internet.  So it’s Google that Mr. Ulevitch should be concerned about and not some imaginary blocking at Verizon Wireless.


Also Verizon has denied they are blocking OpenDNS:
http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,25126651

Posted by: tkjunkmail | November 27, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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