All network traffic is created equal, experts to tell CRTC

Advocates for an open Internet where all network traffic is treated equally are hoping a bevy of experts will convince the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) of this in an appearance this Thursday.

Vancouver-based coalition will make arguments against peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic throttling practices in place at several Canadian Internet service providers (ISPs) including Bell Canada and Rogers Communications. The CRTC is currently holding hearings at Gatineau, Que. to determine if traffic throttling is a legitimate practice or not.

The members include of public interest groups, businesses, ISPs and even religious groups that favour Net neutrality. The advocates submitted a 70-page argument to the CRTC in February, claiming P2P traffic throttling was unnecessary.

Now they’ll assert the same thing in person, says David Fewer, acting director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) – a coalition member and public interest group based at the University of Ottawa.

“The core message has been pretty consistent for us,” he says. “ISPs have a role to play in the way the Internet functions … and that means making sure it’s a neutral platform that’s available to all members of the public.”

These views will be presented by a group of experts, who helped invent critical Internet protocols and are instrumental in managing Canada’s main backbone connection.

For instance, the CRTC will hear from David Reed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Andrew Odlyzko from the Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies project and Bill St. Arnaud, chief research officer at Canarie Inc., Canada’s advanced Internet development organization.

But that display of academic heft doesn’t impress Bob Cheeseman, president of Zing Networks, wireless Internet broad service provider based in Schomberg, Ont. The researchers are out of touch with the real, everyday challenges of running an ISP outfit, he says.

“These guys need to be out there and get their feet on the street in my opinion,” Cheeseman says. “They are basing their opinion on what they want, not on reality.”

Zing Networks serves around 3,000 customers in parts of rural Ontario. It uses deep-packet inspection (DPI) as a way to throttle P2P traffic. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to stay in business, Cheeseman says.

“The minute I turned off the management of the network, my customers would start to leave me in droves,” he adds. “I’d definitely be out of business in a year.”

Bell has also argued that P2P traffic management is needed to maintain quality for all users.

The experts and will argue that network management should only be applied when absolutely necessary, and then all traffic should be throttled equally instead of singling out one single type of traffic.  

There are times when throttling is necessary, Fewer says.

“There are those moments when Obama is inaugurated or Michael Jackson dies, and you need to be ready for that,” he says. “But blocking P2P traffic is a temporary band-aid that won’t offer long term fixes.”

Overall, ISPs are throttling traffic instead of investing in the infrastructure needed to meet the demand, experts say. St. Arnaud of Canarie has written in the past that ISPs that practice throttling have over-subscribed services.

Calgary-based Telus Corp. is one Canadian ISP that hasn’t discriminated against P2P traffic — and attributes this to its investing hundreds of millions of dollars in laying down fibre wiring.

But it is the underlying technology behind the P2P protocol that causes so much trouble in the first place, Cheeseman says. Other traditional Internet protocols like HTTP and FTP can enjoy fast speeds without causing congestion.

“ISPs are throttling BitTorrent because it breaks the network. You can’t maintain quality when you have the protocol running,” he says. “We don’t care about HTTP and FTP, that all works. The Internet isn’t designed for P2P.” will also argue that the Internet serves the public good and that ISPs are responsible for promoting confidence in the Web as reliable way to do business, Fewer says.

“Investors need to be confident that the platform will be rock solid and ISPs won’t be tilting it one way or the other,” he says. “The CRTC should be looking to shore up confidence in the Internet. ISPs shouldn’t be able to characterize it as their network.”

Cheeseman disagrees.

“I own my own network and as far as I’m concerned, once my customers are granted access to it, they can play by my rules,” he says.

Zing Networks will not be making any comments to the CRTC on the issue. The last day of the hearings is July 13.


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