Regulator must weigh conflicting claims

Bell Canada and a group representing ISPs have filed conflicting briefs to the CRTC about the effects the telco’s traffic management strategy, leaving the regulator in a difficult position.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers, representing some of the wholesale buyers of Bell’s DSL service, has complained the telco interfered with their businesses when it began slowing peer-to-peer traffic during peak hours in March.

Bell’s move has impaired the speed and performance of the Internet service association members deliver to subscribers “to the point where the quality of the service has been degraded beyond recognition,” it alleges in a brief.

CAIP has demanded the commission issue a temporary injunction stopping Bell’s traffic management until a full hearing is held on its complaint. But Bell retorted with claims of its own, saying it is only slowing P2P traffic, that other Internet and streaming traffic is not affected and that there’s no evidence the ISPs are losing customers.

At press time the CRTC hadn’t decided when it will issue a decision.

“We’re being controlled by the whims of our downstream carrier,” said association chairman Tom Copeland after his group filed an application with the federal regulator demanding it halt to Bell’s move.

“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 quickly replied in public before filing its own brief to the commission. The vast majority of Internet users are “hostages” to the five per cent who use bandwidth-hogging peer-to-peer applications, said Mirko Bibic, Bell ’s chief of regulatory affairs said in an interview, claiming this minority eats up more than half of traffic overall.

“People need to keep in mind that 95 per cent of Internet users do not use peer-to-peer services,” he said.

“If you think about it, the hostages are the 95 per cent of users whose service gets deteriorated, whose speed gets constrained by those who consume tons of bandwidth. We feel we have an obligation to ensure the 95 per cent of users aren’t held hostage like this.”

In its official response to the CAIP application, Bell suggested ISPs and customers should be grateful: Thanks to its deep packet inspection response, P2P traffic during peak hours (4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.) has dropped 50 per cent reduction, and there’s been a decrease in the number of congested links.

Other types of traffic such as Web browsing, and audio or video streaming, previously impacted by congestion at peak periods, has quickly filled the bandwidth made available, the telco says in its brief, improving those users’ online experience.

As for allegations that CAIP subscribers complain traffic other than P2P applications has slowed, the brief says Bell has investigated several of these reports and in each case has shown that traffic shaping was not the cause of the reported problem.

“Ongoing daily traffic reports and internal testing continue to confirm that VPN, VoIP and online streaming traffic such as YouTube and Internet radio are not being shaped or affected by the Company’s solution,” the Bell brief says.

Bibic downplayed the prospect of a CRTC ruling as a legal precedent in the net neutrality debate in Canada.

“The CRTC’s going to issue a ruling on the specific facts related to the complaint and will deal with and address each and every single allegation,” he said.

“The thrust of the application to the CRTC is that somehow Bell is violating its tariffs, which we dispute. We say our tariffs allow us to protect the integrity of our network and improve the overall performance for the significant majority of users who don’t use peer-to-peer.

“The other main complaint is that these actions constitute some form of unjust discrimination, and that’s completely false. We are treating wholesale users no differently than we’re treating retail users and we’re not targeting any particular content providers. It’s an objective measure applied to one type of traffic, without discrimination.”

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