Users choked up over Internet throttling by Sarah Schmidt

Jan 13, 2012

Complaints to CRTC continue to pour in

Source: Montreal Gazette

Complaints against Internet providers deliberately slowing down online traffic are way up in Canada, according to the telecommunications regulator.

Fifty-two complaints have been filed since last fall, when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued a public reminder to Internet service providers about the rules on controlling the flow of traffic.

The fresh consumer complaints outnumber those filed by Internet users over a two-year period following the release of CRTC's traffic management guidelines in October 2009. Up until the CRTC's notice last September, 51 complaints about net throttling were filed over this 24-month period, the CRTC says.

The recent spike in complaints by Internet users comes as the big telecoms sort out what to do about net throttling, just as a high-profile complaint lodged by the Canadian Gamers Associations against Rogers Communications Inc. is being examined by the CRTC's compliance and enforcement division.

The commission's policy, announced in the fall of 2009, stipulates that the noticeable degradation of time-sensitive Internet traffic, like video chatting and gaming, requires prior approval from the CRTC.

Companies also must disclose to their customers if they're slowing down peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic. The directive also said traffic shaping should only be used as a last resort to deal with network congestion.

When the CRTC announced the policy, big telecom companies said they needed to throttle some web traffic to preserve the quality of service of its retail customers, who risked being crowded out during peak hours by heavy bandwidth users using peer-to-peer applications. Critics denounce Internet traffic management as a violation of the principle of "net neutrality," saying content shouldn't get priority transmission on the Internet.

Last month, Bell Canada and Bell Alliant announced they will stop using equipment to slow down peer-to-peer file-sharing applications of retail and wholesale customers during peak hours, starting March 1. The companies cited the increasing popularity of streamed video and other traffic, resulting in peer-to-peer file-sharing diminishing as a proportion of total traffic.

Cogeco Inc. recently stopped throttling its traffic, while Telus Inc. and Shaw Communications, large players in Western Canada, did not institute such a practice network-wide, said law professor Michael Geist, who expects Rogers eventually to abandon its policy.

"I don't think Bell's policy was sustainable in an environment where there isn't a direct link between the congestion and the policy. The CRTC would be obligated to step in and do something," said Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.

"That leaves just Rogers. My guess is their policy is not going to last the year," added Geist, pointing out others believe Rogers will need a few years to make sufficient upgrades to their network.

Rogers is not tipping its hand about any upcoming change to its traffic management policy.

"It's something that our network people look at all the time, and we are constantly evaluating, but we have nothing to announce today," Ken Engelhart, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, said in an interview Thursday.

Engelhart added that past technical glitches with its popular World of Warcraft game have been solved, and gamers, who flock to Rogers because of its speed, are valued customers.

© Montreal Gazette