Broadband users ‘hostage’ to P2P traffic, Bell exec says

The vast majority of Internet users are “hostages” to the five per cent who use bandwidth-hogging peer-to-peer applications, according to Bell Canada’s chief of regulatory affairs, and Bell’s controversial traffic shaping policies affect only those who use those applications to download movies and music.

Mirko Bibic said Monday that only five per cent of broadband subscribers use peer-to-peer applications, but their traffic amounts to more than half of traffic overall.

Bibic was responding to complaints from ISPs that Bell is manipulating traffic on lines they’ve wholesaled from Bell. Last week, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers filed an application with the CRTC for a cease-and-desist order, saying it’s a violation of Bell’s tariffs and an anti-competitive practice.

Bell has been slowing down “bandwidth-hogging” peer-to-peer traffic for its own Sympatico High-Speed retail customers for more than a month, and extended the policies to its wholesale customers at the end of March.

“Our network management initiative does not affect the vast majority of users,” Bibic said. “People need to keep in mind that 95 per cent of Internet users do not use peer-to-peer services. 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.”

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The complaints, Bibic said, are coming from a small number of wholesalers. “It’s a very short list of people who are complaining about this. And it happens to be those people whose business model is based entirely on serving large bandwidth users, and the very same folks who refuse to build their own networks.”

Asked if serving high bandwidth users isn’t the basic business proposition behind offering broadband service, Bibic replied, “No, it isn’t.” Again, he pointed out the 95 per cent of broadband users who don’t use peer-to-peer services.

Bibic’s numbers came from a June 2006 presentation by network management company Sandvine Inc., which studied a sample pool of 2.4 million broadband subscribers through April of that year. It showed that peer-to-peer traffic ate up 55 per cent of the bandwidth used. The study also showed that peek usage times coincided with those for other applications.

“Those who are complaining are those who are serving those bandwidth hogs who are consuming those peer-to-peer applications. Bear in mind, things like BitTorrent were designed to be bandwidth-hog applications,” Bibic said.

Told that ISPs were claiming all traffic, not just P2P traffic, has been affected by Bell’s traffic shaping campaign, Bibic said that’s not supposed to be the case. “The network management initiative isn’t designed to do that. We’ve indicated to our wholesale customers that should they have any evidence of that, we’re more than happy to obviously meet with them and study the issue,” Bibic said. He said none of the ISPs has come forward with that evidence. “We’re still waiting and working through it,” he said.

Bell isn’t the only ISP shaping traffic, Bibic said. “Other ISPs in Canada and elsewhere in the world do adopt objective network management practices. It’s not unprecedented in that respect,” he said.

In the U.S., Comcast has been savaged for its practices, which targeted BitTorrent traffic. Comcast has become a lightning rod in the net neutrality debate in the U.S.

“I’m not intimately familiar with what Comcast has been doing, nor am I a network engineer, so it’s probably beyond me to get into too much detail on this issue,” Bibic said. “But I am made to understand, and I can’t explain it, that their initial approach to network management is different from what we’re doing.”

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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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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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