Bell defends traffic shaping to the CRTC

Bell Canada defended their Internet connection throttling practice to Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission at the final net neutrality hearing today, claiming the practice is necessary to prevent congestion which would slow down all users on the Bell network.

“We believe this is a user-friendly way to do it,” said Johnathan Daniels, vice-president of regulatory law for Bell Canada, addressing the commission gathered for the CRTC hearings on net neutrality.

Despite criticism last week from the Canadian Association of Internet Providers and small ISPs who made submissions to the CRTC, Daniels said that wholesale customers who also part of the congestion problem, making up 31 per cent of their traffic.

Hence, according to Daniels, throttling wholesale customers is necessary because rather than buying a so-called “bandwidth pipe” from Bell, they’re actually buying a “door” that leads into the same network as Bell’s retail customers, all of whom would be affected by excessive congestion.

However, Daniels did reveal that Bell offers a higher priced wholesale service that bypasses deep packet inspection and thus traffic shaping measures but few customers have opted to buy it.

Bell throttles peer-to-peer file sharing during what they say are “peak hours” between 4:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. which also applies to wholesale customers as Daniels said they have no way to differentiate between the traffic.

Unlike other Canadian ISPs who employ throttling on peer-to-peer protocols, Bell throttles 

When asked why by the commission, Daniels replied that downloading was creating problems in Ontario and Quebec for the network, but they don’t throttle at all in Atlantic Canada where congestion has not been an issue.

As to the concern that singling out peer-to-peer to be deliberately slowed down was stifling innovation, as the protocol is increasingly being used to deliver rich media to consumers, Daniels stated that he feared regulations banning traffic shaping would instead hurt innovation at the network level, deep packet inspecting being one of those innovations.

Rather than outright ban traffic shaping, Daniels proposed three guidelines to apply to all Canadian ISPs that would “balance the desire of Canadians to access the Internet content of their choice, to use and create applications and to use the Internet, with the legitimate interests of ISPs to manage their networks.”

The first proposed guideline was to limit negative impacts of traffic management on users.

However, Daniels went on to state that within that guideline, ISPs could take into account the real time and non-real time nature of applications (for example, allocating more bandwidth to online games than downloads.)

Daniels also stated that ISPs should be able to take into accounts the different between technology like cable versus DSL and that ISPs would not block content based on the source unless “necessary to protect the integrity of the network,” like blocking spam.

Addressing one of the biggest criticisms Bell has received throughout the hearings, Daniels added to the first guideline that ISPs would not be able to give preference to retail traffic over wholesale traffic.

The second proposed guideline was transparency: ISPs must disclose customers what kinds of traffic shaping measures are in place.

The final guideline was not using traffic shaping in such a way that it violates Canadian privacy laws.