Friday, 4 April 2008

A response to LKO on Net Neutrality - Part 1

I'm going to cover a lot of ground here, and its all stemming from the discussion the other day on Net Neutrality. I'm going to share my credentials up front. I've been an IT Administrator of one form or another since 1990. For the last 8 years I've been managing network bandwidth both on the Internet and on private corporate WANs and LANs using a variety of applications. During this period, I've also been directly involved in negotiating contracts with Telcos for network and phone service. This is what I do for a living.

I want to deal with some of the comments in LKO's post from yesterday.

"What's worse, Bell is going well beyond stopping any competitors from offering un-throttled access, to trying to kill all their competitors all together. That's right. They're not content with controlling the nature of their competition's access to bandwidth. They want to cut off their competition entirely!"

If Bell is indeed engaging in anti-competitive practices, then they should be stopped. But they don't need the CRTC, or the government to change the rules. There are already anti-competition laws on the books. The ISPs can also sue Bell Canada for breach of contract and take them to court. If they can prove (and if the ISPs band together it'll be easy to prove) that Bell is arbitrarily throttling 3rd party ISP traffic to kill the competition, then Bell will lose the case. There are already legal avenues for the ISPs to get to Bell. This is assuming that their side of the story as reported by the press is true.

"Catelli, what Bell did a couple of weeks ago has nothing to do with managing bandwidth."

Really? Well I give this quote from the Globe and Mail story I linked to earlier:

"Estimates vary, but [independent] analysts believe peer-to-peer and torrent traffic accounts for anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of online bandwidth use, but emanates from as few as 5 to 10 per cent of all users."

Let me restate that, 70 to 90% of online bandwidth is consumed by 5 to 10% of all users. That leaves as little as 10% of online bandwidth for the other 90% of the online community. That isn't fair at all. I'm sorry, but when I'm trying to pay my bills online, and I can't get to my bank because some yuck is downloading all 30 seasons of the Simpsons, I ain't gonna feel sorry for him if Bell throttles his traffic.

Let me point out that this whole story broke because BitTorrent traffic was being throttled. That is an application, not content. Which is a very important distinction, because this claim is an exaggeration of the context of this story: Want to access a video from the Globe and Mail, CTV or the BCE site? Bell would be more than happy to expedite your access. Want to checkout a Youtube video, or a video from the CBC? You're a "bandwidth hog" and we're going to choke off your access and slow you down.

The CBC video in question was distributed through BitTorrent, a P2P file sharing protocol. It was that application that was being throttled, not the video. CBC could have distributed the video through online streaming, HTTP or FTP download or through other applications. Do NOT make the mistake of confusing data with the application.

"Looks like the latest news is that Bell is agitating at the CRTC to free themselves of having to share their infrastructure at all."

Now this is a horse of a different colour. Back when telecommunications was de-regulated, and Bell Canada lost its monopoly, Bell (and eventually the other Telco monopolies) was ordered to provide access to its telephone network for 3rd party long distance companies and for local loop providers. The logic was Bell was so huge they could stamp out any phone company wishing establish themselves in the Canadian market. Please note, this was primarily about phone service, not internet. At the time, Rogers was given a grace period to establish a competitive phone service, after which they were supposed to open up their cable infrastructure as well as part of a quid pro quo. That has yet to happen.

So, Bell was ordered to give competitors direct access to its physical infrastructure. They had to allow other companies to use all of their services to compete in local phone and long distance services. This eventually extended to dryloop DSL service on Bell's infrastructure. So far, Bell Canada has to allow competitors access to virtually all of its infrastructure. Rogers, its largest competitor, does not. I find it vastly unfair to the consumer that I can choose another phone or ISP that uses Bell's infrastructure, but I cannot choose another cable TV provider or cable internet provider on the Rogers network. The Rogers network is for their use alone. Curious that.

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