Bell Canada is slowing down access on its Sympatico internet servers for users who file share during prime time to prevent them from clogging the network, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Bell began the process, which it calls managing the bandwidth capacity but which is widely known as "throttling," on March 14. The company plans to have it rolled out across the Sympatico service area — Quebec and Ontario — by April 7, spokesman Jason Laszlo said.

It will be in effect during the peak period for internet use in late afternoon and the evening, he said. For people sharing files, the system "will simply not work as fast." But other users will not be delayed.

Bell, like other internet service providers, says it has capacity problems caused by peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing systems such as BitTorrent, which can be used to download movies, music and games. "We're certainly not unique in this," Laszlo said, adding that other service providers are managing P2P downloads.

P2P programs are only employed by a small percentage of internet users, but they tend to make use of all the available bandwidth, Laszlo said. Reduced P2P use should provide a better balance between P2P and other users at peak times, he said.

"I feel we're on the side of good," he said.

However Rocky Gaudrault, CEO of internet service provider Teksavvy, said Bell's move "may hinder a lot of legitimate downloading."

Bell has not officially announced the throttling initiative, but Gaudrault found out about it last week and said Bell confirmed the move in a meeting he attended Tuesday.

People watching the impact of Bell's new policy have begun to chart affected areas on a Google map, and University of Ottawa law professor and web commentator Michael Geist raised the matter in his blog.

Gaudrault said there could be privacy issues related to the throttling of specific types of internet traffic, but Laszlo denied that. "At no time do we monitor the content," he said.