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Bell Canada says its traffic shaping is helping overall network performance. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

BY PETER NOWAK — Bell Canada Inc. has rejected a call by smaller service providers to immediately stop the shaping of internet traffic.

The company on Tuesday responded to a request by the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, which represents 55 smaller companies, to the telecommunications regulator for an emergency order banning the practice. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission made Bell's response available on Wednesday.

CAIP, whose members rent portions of Bell's network in order to resell internet service to customers, objected to the company's use of network-management technology that discriminates against peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent. The group said Bell was violating its terms of agreements with the smaller ISPs.

Bell said it began shaping its own traffic in November in an effort to curb abuse of the network by a small minority of users who were using peer-to-peer applications to share large files, including movies, which was slowing down speeds for all users.

The company in March extended that traffic-shaping to its resellers, prompting CAIP to make its complaint last week. CAIP said Bell's traffic-shaping practices were costing its members customers and requested the CRTC take urgent action.

In its response, Bell rejected the call, saying CAIP had failed to meet any of the requirements for urgent action. Bell maintained it is not giving itself any undue preference because it is subject to the same traffic-shaping as CAIP members. The company also said CAIP had failed to prove its members were suffering from "irreparable harm."

"Rather than providing evidence of harm related to its internet traffic management solution, CAIP's application is limited to unsubstantiated allegations and observations," Bell said in its filing.

Bell said its shaping was actually helping overall network performance in that peer-to-peer traffic has dropped by about 50 per cent. That decrease has been filled in by other uses of the internet including web surfing and video streaming, which means customers using those applications have been receiving a better experience. Bell did not specify a percentage increase in these other uses.

Bell's head of regulatory affairs, Mirko Bibic, declined to comment further on the company's response.

The company's own numbers disprove its rationale for traffic shaping, which is to reduce network congestion, CAIP chair Tom Copeland told CBCNews.ca.

"There's been no bandwidth savings. If peer-to-peer has fallen off and other types of traffic have filled the void, we're right back to where we were [before]," Copeland said. "We haven't done a single thing to reduce network congestion, which makes us again wonder if they actually have a congestion issue."

Bell also disputed CAIP's claim that its members were losing customers because of the new traffic-shaping policy. With most Canadian ISPs now engaging in such network management, customers are going to encounter it no matter who they sign up with, Bell said.

Copeland said customers are in fact leaving, with some businesses and families with two connections opting to discontinue one of their services.

"Believe it or not, there are businesses and families that will have two connections into their homes," Copeland said. "The reality is they are leaving." 

Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc., which also rents parts of Bell's network to provide its own telecommunications services, filed a letter of support for CAIP with the CRTC on Tuesday as well. Primus said Bell's admission that it is shaping the traffic of smaller ISPs is proof that is has violated its agreement with those companies.

"Primus rejects any assertion by Bell Canada that traffic volumes associated with its wholesale … customers have necessitated this measure," the company wrote in its letter. "Primus does not believe that such traffic management measures are required."

Primus president Ted Chislett told CBCNews.ca he doubts Bell has a congestion problem, a sentiment echoed by internet experts. University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist pointed out that while Bell says only five per cent of its users are using 33 per cent of its available bandwidth during peak times, that ratio is much higher in other countries. Studies have shown that four per cent of users in Japan are responsible for 75 per cent of traffic, while in South Korea five per cent have accounted for 50 per cent.

"Bell's current traffic experience may make it more difficult to argue that constraints that affect 100 per cent of users are reasonable in light of better alternatives," he wrote on his blog.

In defending its traffic-shaping policies, Bell is moving in the opposite direction of ISPs in the United States. Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. service provider, is under threat of regulation after recent hearings by the Federal Communications Commission. Following the hearings, the company said it would stop its traffic shaping by the end of the year. On Tuesday, Comcast also announced it would seek to create a file-sharing "bill of rights" between internet users, content providers and ISPs.

CAIP must now respond to Bell's filing before the CRTC makes its final ruling.