Bell traffic shaping sparks ISP outrage

One of the country’s biggest independent Internet providers is angry that Bell Canada has started managing peer-to-peer traffic on the high-speed backbone that Ontario and Quebec ISPs connect to.

“I’m just completely outraged that they could do this without consulting us,” said Ted Chislett, president of Primus Telecommunications Canada, a Bell wholesale Internet access purchaser that sells DSL voice and data services in both provinces.

Bell says it’s trying to assure peer-to-peer traffic from music, file and movie downloads doesn’t overwhelm the network, which the utility estimates takes up to 80 per cent of traffic. But Chislett worries that he’ll lose business to cable and other providers if Bell’s policy slows network speeds to those customers.

Primus is one of at least three ISPs vowing to fight Bell’s new strategy for fighting P2P traffic.

Bell is in the middle of implementing its traffic-shaping procedures, which won’t be finished until next month. That might explain why Primus hasn’t seen any change in its traffic since it learned of the policy a few days ago.

Still, Chislett and several other Bell wholesale customers are pondering going to the CRTC or launching class-action lawsuits against Bell for a number of reasons, including a possible slowing of service to customers and violating their contract with the utility.

However, Bell spokesman Jason Laszlo said that the agreements of ISPs who buy service from Bell clearly state it has the right to manage its network “for the benefit of all.”

Bell has been shaping network traffic on its own Sympatico high speed service for about a year, he said, by “balancing the amount of space P2P (peer to peer) applications take within the bandwidth during peak hours to make sure they don’t take over the entire bandwidth.”

That was quietly extended on March 14 to contract ISPs buying service from Bell.

Laszlo wouldn’t divulge how Bell is seeing into the traffic, or how it’s slowing down what it finds objectionable.

“Increasing congestion is affecting the networks of all carriers across North America, including ours,” he said. “Like other carriers we’re seeking to better balance Internet traffic during peak hours so all of our customers can receive an optimum level of service.”

He acknowledged that ISPs weren’t notified of the new policy, which Chislett said is “unacceptable.”

“It shows how heavy-handed they are,” the Primus executive said. “We’re supposed to be their wholesale partners.”

As for Bell’s assertion that it has the right to manage its network, Chislett replied, “I don’t believe they have the right to impact our customers without telling us,” he said, particularly because Primus paying for access.

Although going to the CRTC is one alternative, Chislett said talking to Bell is his first option. “We’re trying to quickly get in front of Bell and see what can be done.” Among the alternatives Bell has, he said, is to charging different rates for different traffic demands.

Increasing bandwidth demands are frustrating carriers, who see never-ending expenses for bigger pipes, switches and routers to handle the flow. There are some calls for tariffs on forms of data that clog the Web to ease the problem. However, others see this as an attack on net neutrality, a principle that all Internet data should be treated neutrally.

While some users might see the Bell strategy as impacting net neutrality, telecommunications consultant Iain Grant of the SeaBoard Group disagrees.

The principle of carriers managing their networks is clearly understood, he said in an e-mail interview. Bell’s policy this isn’t about particular data, it is a function of usage intensity, he wrote. Carriers have the right to regulate intensity just as power utilities have the right to manage electricity during peak hours.

“Networks that have overbuilt their capacity and who therefore have no capacity constraints (and thus no need to worry about network congestion) can market their service as being a premium offering,” he added.

Another Bell wholesale customer upset over Bell’s new policy is Rocky Gaudrault, CEO of Teksavvy Solutions of Chatham, Ont, an ISP with some 21,000 DSL customers.

“It’s a little upsetting to have worked with what was with a great organization and have this come up,” he said in an interview. The company pays for an interface with Bell’s network to aggregate services, plus about $20 per user a month, he said. “Essentially we’ve purchased rights to this portion of this network.”

“They have the right to manage the health of the network,” he added. “They do not have the right to police it.”

Since March 14 some customers have complained their service has slowed at times, he said.

“We are paying for five megabit connection, which inherently means we should get five megabits of service. What’s inside that is irrelevant.”

Gaudrault acknowledged that before March 14 Teksavvy at times didn’t get 5Mpbs through its pipe. However, he believes that’s due to Chatham’s distance from Toronto rather than overuse by P2P downloaders.

Another ISP considering is options is Acanac Inc., a Mississauga, Ont.-based company with some 16,000 DSL and 4,000 VoIP customers in Ontario and Quebec.

“We are extremely upset that they (Bell) are shaping the traffic that we should be able to control,” said Sandro Henriques, a director of the company.

Acanac has been talking with Gaudrault about possible action, he said, but is waiting until a meeting with Bell over the issue.

“We’re going to try to do whatever we can to put a stop to this,” he said. “If we allow Bell to continue to make these adjustments it’s going to lead to something else.” Some customers, including those wanting to do a lot of P2P downloading, are paying for promised speeds, he said, but Bell is restricting the speed of some traffic.

When it was suggested that Bell is trying to ensure his customers get the fast access they’re paying for, Henriques replied that “Bell should have no right to interfere with the network of our clients.”

Instead, he said, “they should upgrade their hardware.”

Acanac is a division of Inc, a Web hosting company.

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