Bell Canada caught throttling ISPs' net connections

Bell Canada, the national Canadian telcom, has been caught filtering P2P connections initiated by customers of its reseller ISPs -- that means that if you start a funky little ISP in Toronto and buy a giant fat industrial pipe from Bell to serve it, Bell will secretly throw away your customers' packets.

The apologists for ISP filtering often say that it's unreasonable to hold ISPs to delivering unlimited service on the unlimited lines they sell, and if we want real unlimited service, then we should go out and buy commercial-grade connections. Well, that's exactly what these lines are: enormous pipes sold to ferchrissakes ISPs for subsequent public use.

Bell Canada's position is that the Canadian Internet belongs to it, and that it has the right and duty to simply toss out packets based on which protocol they're running on, in order to maximize profits. This is the opposite of how the Internet works, and it's a disaster. No one had to get permission from all the worlds' phone companies in order to invent the Web, or Skype, or BitTorrent. But Bell Canada's logic is that they should have the ability to reach into the stream of packets and secretly and discriminatorily chuck out packets that it has some prejudice against.

This could be the beginning of the end of the Internet. If the world's telcos are in charge of what you're allowed to do on the Internet, the innovation stops here. From here on in, every new feature you want to add to the Internet depends on your capacity to send guys in suits to meetings with all the world's telcos and convince them that your idea won't hurt them. These are the companies that charge extra for caller ID -- according to that logic, you should have to pay extra to see the "From:" line on your inbound emails, too.

Details of Bell Canada's implementation remain scarce or contradictory, but the timing of the news is interesting, coming as it does just days after the CBC announced its own plans to use BitTorrent to distribute Canada's Next Great Prime Minister. Given P2P's obvious (and growing) legal uses, transparency is going to be an important part of any throttling scheme. If a network operator makes clear that BitTorrent speed is reduced after 30GB a month, for instance, that's one thing; if the throttling remains mysterious and arbitrary, that's another.


  1. This fight for free use is going to win, but only because of a few ISP’s that are using torrents as a business model – not because the customer wants it, or because the gov’t of any nations promotes fair business practices.

    All of this stuff makes me sick, and simply justifies the torrent scene in their campaign to beat the “man”. I’m completely with them at this point, where before I could have leaned in the direction of “oh that’s illegal, might be better off just using netflix/blockbuster and not risking it”.

  2. “This could be the beginning of the end of the Internet.”

    I’m gonna write down that quote, so when the internet really does get ruined, and I make a film about it… I can say that cory doctorow sorta predicted it.

  3. This isnt’ the end of anything, it’s just another little bump in the road. Information Wants To Be Free, after all. Maybe good Canadians need to send letters to their representatives and protest. Does Canada have a Freedom Of Speech clause in their constitution? I’m just wondering if the governement does not guarentee freedom of speech, is internet data protected from Bell Canada’s interference with content? Especially if they do in fact own the lines. I know the postal service in Canada can refuse to transport material that’s been deemed pornographic (illegal).

  4. @#3:
    The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
    Section Two: Fundamental Freedoms:

    2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

    (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
    (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    (d) freedom of association.

  5. Oh yeah, IANAL, but as far as I know, the Charter only applies to the government, not to corporations.

  6. IF there is a right to expression, the why does the government crack down on people who sell porn? Just wondering. It isn’t exactly freedom of speach, then, is it? Although I would think freedom of the press covers that. As with America, there are probably just exceptions to the rule.

  7. “These are the companies that charge extra for caller ID”

    Bell Canada charges extra for TOUCH-TONE phone service!

    But let’s not forget that the other near-monopoly ISP in Canada, Rogers, also engages in “traffic shaping”, speed throttling, capping and even termination of one’s connection if trying to download a file over a certain (unspecified) size – all outside their TOS. I have to wonder if Rogers isn’t doing the same thing as Bell Canada to their Mom & Pop ISP commercial customers.

  8. @#6: Selling pornography IS legal in Canada. It can be tough to import, though. Border Services used to be able to block at their discretion anything they deemed “obscene.” That power has been drastically reduced.

    The only crack-downs I’ve ever heard of had to do with child porn. Beyond that, it’d have to be very extreme and illegal for other reasons to cause an issue.

  9. I’ve also heard that the CRTC is considering changing it’s original stance and regulating the internet… Which is both laughable and scary at the same time.

  10. FWIW, a couple of months ago I spoke to a shaw tech support rep who told me flat-out, no dissembling or qualifiers, that they don’t throttle BT, period.

    I could see Shaw being deceptive in marketing or something, but I doubt they’d tell a flat-out lie. Of course, he could’ve been mistaken, but the fact that I get the same results on with or without BT client running suggests that he was telling the truth about throttling, anyway.

    So I sent an email to shaw today saying that I’d heard that they don’t shape or throttle, can they confirm this for me? I’ll email the results, if I get a reply.

  11. Just my opinion but if this fight is to be won, it will not be on the on the merits of the argument:

    “I am a Canadian citizen and my Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees my right to torrent more than 50 movies / month!”

    But more on the anticompetitive nature of a monopolistic, subsidized national telco pissing on the wires its mandated to provide to competitors.

  12. @ #2 ZIKMAN

    “This could be the beginning of the end of the Internet.”

    I’m gonna write down that quote, so when the internet really does get ruined, and I make a film about it… I can say that cory doctorow sorta predicted it.

    Bah, don’t worry. BoingBoing declares that every week.

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