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.