Google, Amazon ask CRTC to stop Internet traffic shaping

A submission to the Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) this week from a coalition of companies including Google, Skype and Amazon, demanding that carriers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) be banned from traffic-shaping, is perhaps too broad in its focus, according to one industry expert.

In the submission on Monday, Open Internet Coalition, consisting of more than 70 member companies, said certain traffic management practices by “Canadian carrier Internet service providers threaten the open and neutral design of the Internet.” That “discourages investment in broadband networks, diminishes consumer choice, interferes with users’ freedom of expression, and inhibits innovation.”

The submission, along with others, were in response to the CRTC’s request for comments in advance of a July investigation into Internet traffic management.

“I think that’s a bit of a broad swipe,” said Michael Rozender, principal of Grimsby, Ont.-based Rozender Consultants International.

While Rozender does believe that carriers should provide unfettered net neutrality, he thinks the Open Internet Coalition’s submission needs to narrow its focus. “Let’s get specific here on what’s happening and why it’s happening and really what needs to be done,” he said.

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The issue is that the CRTC should demand that the carriers (Rozender stresses the difference between carriers and the ISPs — the latter have no choice but to follow the Internet traffic-shaping practices of the former) “build out broadband capabilities to provision unfettered net neutrality, no traffic-shaped services and we well all benefit from it.”

The carriers, Bell Canada Enterprise Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., must “get with the program” and catch up to the rest of the world in terms of Internet service, he said, especially considering bandwidth customer utilization is not what it used to be.

There is no question, said Rozender, that Bell Canada and Rogers have delayed upgrading their backbone and capabilities to the latest standard, DOCSIS 3.0, which can theoretically support speeds and feeds well into the hundreds of megabits per second per user. “It needs a big pipeline to feed that throughput. And they don’t have it.”

While many organizations globally, in the past couple of years, have already rolled out DOCSIS 3.0, “Rogers is basically twiddling their thumbs.”

Instead of making that much-needed investment in the backbone, Rozender said Bell Canada and Rogers are choosing to spend money on throttling high-throughput users and performing deep packet inspection on content.

The truth is, noted Rozender, that traffic-shaping doesn’t just affect the peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing site users. Many of his clients, who are users of high-end videoconferencing for their businesses, experience throttling and “in some case the performance gets affected quite dramatically.”

P2P usage is most characterized by asymmetrical traffic as in downloading movies (unless a user is accessing another’s hard drive), whereas videoconferencing is very much symmetrical, explained Rozender. Other carriers, like Telus, he said have been “aggressively” provisioning fibre backbone to provide unfettered service, he said.

The upcoming July investigation of the matter by the CRTC results from complaints by Ottawa-based Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) that Bell Canada is shaping traffic from P2P sites.

In an e-mail to ComputerWorld Canada, CAIP chairman Tom Copeland said that in principle, the association supports the Open Internet Coalition’s submission. “We agree that unrestricted traffic-shaping on an ongoing and what appears to be a permanent basis, as we’re seeing in Ontario and Quebec, discourages investment in infrastructure and innovation by impeding the delivery of content,” Copeland wrote.

However, he added that CAIP believes there is a time and place for such traffic management practices as when “temporarily managing problematic portions of a network or specific users causing problems on the network.”

The congestion claimed by some Canadian carriers is caused by “a small number of users,” Copeland continued. “When a carrier manages a user’s activity in a fair and equitable manner they do not need to unfairly impede the activities of others.”

While Rozender thinks the Open Internet Coalition’s submission is too broad, he does acknowledge that the backing of recognized names like Google, Amazon and Skype might help the CRTC – which has been perceived as “an antiquity, head-in-the-sand, protectionist organization that just doesn’t get it” – realize this is very much a global issue.