What Bell doesn’t want you to know: The full extent of their throttling

Copyright Bell Canada

When Bell instituted their throttling of Internet services back in March, it was almost universally-reviled. It wasn’t so much the throttling that was disliked but rather the secrecy with which it was done. Bell did not notify any of their customers of this change of service, nor did they change their advertisements to reflect this new “level” of service. Thankfully, the CRTC has ordered Bell to publicly disclose the full details of whether Internet traffic levels warranted throttling. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to include the full explanation of their throttling policies.

However, some new research has shed light on the true extent of Bell’s throttling. One report shows that throttling is in in full force from a time starting at 4:30 PM all the way to 2 AM on every day. This amounts to close to 40% of the day. Furthermore, during these times, if any user was detected to be using P2P (using Bell’s fairly liberal detection rules) a width swath of other protocols would also be limited to the current cap of 30 KB/s. This would include other encrypted protocols such as those behind SSH and VoIP. This is clearly an unacceptably wide-range of throttling and effectively reduces the bandwidth to less than 10% of what is normally available to the user. Instead of taking a blacklist approach, it appears that once a user is “flagged” as using P2P, all traffic that is not explicitly white-listed is throttled to a measly 30 KB/s. (Note that the article states “30 Kbps” but I believe this to be a misprint, as through my own experiences the limit is around 30 KB/s, not Kbps)

Bell’s actions don’t match with their reasoning. They claim that P2P needs to be throttled in order to preserve network quality. Even if this were true, it would be a blatant case of false advertising and more a symptom of their inability to upgrade their infrastructure despite their monopoly status. However Bell’s recent moves seem to indicate they do have faith in their network’s ability to handle bandwidth-intensive applications, as they recently launched their own video download site. Movies purchased at Bell’s own store curiously are downloaded at full speed.

Bell is treading a fine line here by throttling protocols such as those used for P2P and VoIP, considering that these protocols may be used by other businesses to deliver services that compete directly with Bell’s own. These sorts of actions may be anti-competitive, especially since they use Bell’s advantage as a near-monopoly to discourage users from utilizing competitor’s offerings. Bell’s own video download store only confirms their desire to bundle and push other services along with Internet access, and now they enjoy an unnatural advantage in delivering this content because of the unfair rules they have instituted. No one said business was fair, but free markets cannot thrive under monopolies either.

Why does Bell see it fit to throttle and slow down customer’s connections instead of investing in their own infrastructure to improve end-user quality? It’s simple enough: There is no incentive to do so. With their market-dominating position as one of the big ISPs in Canada, they don’t have to worry about losing customers because of poor service simple because there’s not many other places customers take their business to if they were to “vote with their dollar”.

Indeed, the situation is worsened because many local ISPs (who provide DSL) in turn get their connections from Bell. Bell has decided to not only throttle their own customers but also any traffic that goes through their network. This means customers who don’t even have a contract with Bell suffer from their actions. Again, only a monopoly would have the gall to pull off a move like this.

These actions reek of the days of dialup, a time that nobody wants to revisit again. With the latest moves of Bell and other big ISPs it appears that with their oligopoly, these corporations want to bring back the days where unlimited access did not exist. However, instead of getting billed per-hour, you’ll get billed per-MB/GB. This is a natural thing for telcos, who are used to getting away with charging ridiculous fees and other excesses. If things continue the way they are going, without intervention your Internet access bill will more resemble your cellphone/mobile bill. The high cost of mobile phone access has already hurt our country in terms of technological adoption; do we want the same to happen for Internet access?

One Comment »

  1. Peter, thanks for a well put together analysis of the situation. Because of P2P, I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of educational stuff from sources I would have otherwise missed. I particularly enjoy the wide variety of documentaries and “do-it-yourself” guides that are made available via P2P. After 33 yrs as a cable t.v. and 6 yrs internet subscriber, I finally had enough of Rogers’ BS and recently told them where to go. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Rogers decided to highjack my homepage and force me to agree to their new “victim” polices such as the 60gb maximum download cap when my contract clearly states “unlimited” This endeavor on Rogers’ behalf was non-negotiable and unless I agreed to their terms on the spot, my connection would not be re-established. I’ve recently signed up with a not-for-profit DSL provider called National Capital Freenet for a flat 30.00 per/mth fee, 200Gb monthly cap, and no contract. Except for Bell’s throttling, I couldn’t be happier with the service. You can visit them at NCF.ca for more info, it’s a great concept.

    Best regards, Rick

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