Traffic throttling by Canadian ISPs not required, experts tell CRTC

Canada’s Internet service providers (ISPs) have no reason to throttle peer-to-peer (p2p) traffic and can use other network management techniques that have minimal end-user repercussions instead, according to top Internet experts.

Net neutrality advocates in Canada have sought out the testimony of experts involved in inventing the Internet and managing Canada’s major backbone connection.

The Campaign for Democratic Media and the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) submitted a 70-page argument to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Feb. 24, emphasizing the importance of telecommunications’ carriers treating all types of Internet traffic equally.

Backers of the submission argue the very nature of the Internet as an open platform for innovation is at risk because of the traffic- management practices of large asset-based ISPs, such as Bell Canada and Rogers Communications.

“We’re not disputing that they’re experiencing some congestion at certain points in their network,” says Philippa Lawson, a CIPPIC associate and co-counsel for CDM. “But they’ve chosen to use the most intrusive, most privacy invasive, and most damaging methods [to deal with this].”

This isn’t the first time the CRTC has examined the traffic-shaping issue.

The so called “net neutrality” controversy came to the fore when wholesale customers of Bell’s network complained about p2p traffic being throttled. The Canadian Association of Internet Providers asked the CRTC to demand that Bell cease the practice last year, but the CRTC denied that request on Nov. 20.

However, the Commission did promise to more closely examine the issue of traffic shaping.

At the time, the CRTC said they didn’t have enough evidence to decide if throttling was warranted or not. Bell had not released its traffic management data, citing competitive reasons.

“We’re disappointed at the amount of information about their network traffic they’ve put on the public record,” Lawson says.

Among the experts lending testimony to the new submission is David Reed, an adjunct professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Reed was one of the main developers of the Internet, including many of its main protocols such as TCP and UDP.

Others are Andrew Odlyzko, professor at the University of Minnesota and founder of the Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies project — who is an international expert in the area of network management methods, and Bill St. Arnaud, a chief research officer at CANARIE Inc., the organization that manages Canada’s Internet backbone.

The researchers outline why p2p traffic throttling is unnecessary and even against Canada’s Telecommunications Act. They also specify some traffic control methods viewed as less intrusive and harmful to the end user.

“Canadian ISPs haven’t even tried these techniques,” Lawson says. “We think there is strong evidence Internet throttling is not necessary and is inappropriate.”

Calgary-based Telus Corp. is an ISP that says it does not engage in any traffic shaping. It submitted comments to the commission on Feb. 23.

“We don’t think our customers want us too,” says Craig McTaggart, director of broadband policy with Telus. “We think of our business as facilitating communication and not standing in the way of it.”

Telus has a capital expenditure budget of more than $2 billion this year and a big portion of that is being invested in its broadband network. In Western Canada, it plans to build fibre out to curb-side cable boxes to increase its bandwidth and offer a new TV delivery service.

The CDM-CIPPIC submission suggests that other ISPs should upgrade their networks to accommodate more users.

Researcher St. Arnaud suspects that if Canadian ISPs must throttle traffic, it is because they are signing up more customers than they can manage. ISPs could share their rate of over-subscription ratio with the public – the number of users versus capacity.

Such a tool would allow customers to choose ISPs that aren’t already overburdened, and also serve as an incentive to build out network capacity.

Another recommendation is that ISPs could throttle all traffic equally, instead of just selecting to clamp down on p2p. That’s a structure favoured by Info-Tech Research Group senior research analyst Mark Tauschek.

“It eliminates the need for deep packet inspection (DPI) infrastructure,” he says. “You don’t need to inspect every packet if you’re not discriminating against traffic.”

DPI has raised privacy concerns in the past because it allows carriers to see specific information about the data a user is downloading. It is a service that Bell Canada pays for, so it can identify p2p traffic and slow it down.

The submission claims that p2p traffic throttling violates the Telecommunications Act in two different ways. The Act prohibits the controlling of content or influencing the meaning and purpose of telecommunications by delaying it so much that it is unusable. Also, the overall objective of the Act is to protect privacy, encourage innovation and provide a reliable system.

“They are unfairly discriminating against p2p traffic,” Lawson says. “If you’re trying to download and watch a documentary and it’s all broken up, that constitutes influencing the meaning or purpose.”

Comments from the public are no longer being taken by the CRTC. But CDM will collect comments until collect comments to present to the CRTC until July 6, at its Web site.

Despite more than 3,500 Canadians writing in to the CRTC in defence of net neutrality, and several submissions from public interest groups criticizing the practice, Tauschek is not optimistic about the commission upholding net neutrality.

“It’s astounding the amount of lobbying influence and power the ISPs have,” he says. “Politicians seem to be siding with carriers despite the fact that public sentiment favours net neutrality.”

The CRTC is expected to hold the probe July 6 in Gatineau, Que.

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