ISPs fight back against Bell

The CRTC must order Bell Canada to stop manipulating DSL traffic of Internet providers that buy service from it, says the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.

“We’re being controlled by the whims of our downstream carrier,” association chairman Tom Copeland said after his group filed an application with the federal regulator demanding it halt Bell’s recent decision to manage peer-to-peer traffic across its network during peak hours.

“They’re interfering in our businesses,” Copeland complained.

His association represents some 40 ISPs in Ontario and Quebec affected by Bell’s move.

The phone company says it wants to make sure those downloading large P2P files aren’t slowing down network speeds for the majority of people online, but ISPs see it differently.

“We see it not only as a breach of the contracts we have with Bell but with the tariff they (Bell) are obliged to provide us those services under,” said Copeland. “It puts us at a disadvantage because we can no longer choose how we service our customers.”

Copeland, who heads the Coburg, Ont.,-based provider called, says many of his 2,500 customers have been complaining about slower service since Bell began throttling the bandwidth of its ISPs two weeks ago. Bell had been traffic shaping its own Sympatico service for about a year before that.

Bell says contracts with ISPs allow it to manage the network for the benefit of all users. “There is language to that effect,” Copeland said, “but it stipulates that it is only in extreme cases of malfunctioning network equipment or instances of severe hacking. There is nothing in their contracts to say they can arbitrarily and unilaterally target legitimate traffic that we have paid them to deliver to us.”

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According to University of Ottawa professor and industry commentator Michael Geist, a CRTC decision on the application could be precedent-setting.

“The application…is the most significant legal development in the Canadian net neutrality debate yet since it places the issue squarely before the Commission,” Geist wrote on his blog. “The filing provides additional insights into Bell’s action – the throttling has reduced speeds by as much as 90 per cent – and marks an important milestone since the outcome will provide a clear answer on whether Canadian law currently protects net neutrality or if legislative reform is needed.

“This brings together many of the net neutrality arguments that have been raised in recent months. The ball is now in the CRTC’s court.”

As for Bell’s public statements that increasing network congestion caused it to act, Copeland replied that “they have not come out and said they are having a problem on the network. They’ve alluded to it by suggesting to it that by undertaking this action they are providing more favorable environment for everybody concerned, but they have not come and said ‘We having this problem.’ That makes us wonder why they are undertaking this.”

Meanwhile, he alleged, Bell has told its sales staff to stop selling its $25 a month unlimited use Sympatico service because it will be moving to a usage-based billing system.

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“Their stories don’t exactly line up,” said Copeland.

At press time IT World Canada was trying to get comment from Bell.

In its 56-page application, the CAIP alleges that during the week of March 17 without notice Bell began restricting bandwidth of its wholesale customers by performing deep packet inspection (DPI). This, the application says, is not authorized by the Bell Canada General Tariff 5410 (GT Item 5400), also known as Gateway Access Service or “GAS.”

Bell’s move has impaired the speed and performance of the service the association’s members deliver “to the point where the quality of the service has been degraded beyond recognition,” the document says.

Fast data transfer speed is a key selling point of the high-speed service ISPs offer, but the speeds now seen by CAIP members since March 17 shows the GAS “no longer services its intended purpose of providing reliable, 24×7 high speed access to Internet content.”

“Bell Canada’s unilateral use of DPI in association with the GAS has caused serious degradation of the performance and service speeds of the retail Internet access and other services offered by independent ISPs and threatens to cause serious and irreparable harm to the business interests of these ISPs in the form of disrupted service, business uncertainty, loss of good will and loss of customers and market share,” says the application.

In fact it alleges that the traffic ISPs are able to deliver “has been dramatically reduced,” but the providers still have to pay Bell.

Some customers – it doesn’t say how many – have threatened to drop their service, the application says.

The association has turned to the CRTC because it regulates Bell’s tariffs, the rules under which it can resell service to customers like ISPs.

It wants the commission to issue an interim order stoping Bell from, in its words, using any technologies to “shape,” “throttle” and/or “choke” its wholesale ADSL services. It also wants the commission to chop its usual time for Bell to reply to such an application down to four days, and for CAIP’s ability to respond after that to three days, after which the commission should issue a final order that Bell has acted unlawfully.

The practice by carriers of traffic shaping is controversial. Carriers insist it has to be done to prevent a minority of users linked to P2P sites using technology such as BitTorrent for downloading music and video files. Subscribers and companies selling P2P products bitterly object.

U.S. carrier Comcast, which is targeting BitTorrent traffic, was forced Thursday to agree to stop searching for individual traffic protocols by the middle of this year. For its part, BitTorrent acknowleged the need for ISPs to manage their networks during peak congestion periods and promised to work with carriers to improve its technology so it will put less of a burden on networks.

BitTorrent is part of the Distributed Computer Industry Association’s P4P working group, which has been testing “intelligent routing” P2P that actively guides the selection of file sources and network pathways, rather than simply downloading large chunks of data from sources wherever they can be found without regard to network efficiency.

Ashwin Navin, BitTorrent’s president and co-founder, says his company has been negotiating with Comcast for more than two years on tr

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