Bell Canada is facing an increasing number of opponents to its traffic-shaping policy. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

The battle over traffic-shaping and net neutrality intensified Friday with the Canadian Association of Internet Providers firing back at Bell Canada Inc., saying the company has failed to prove its network is congested and therefore in need of speed throttling.

Bell's rationale — that it needs to limit speeds on peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent during peak periods because a small portion of users are disrupting service for the wider base of customers — is without merit, CAIP said in a submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

"The notion that the five per cent who are allegedly the cause of the problem are chewing up ever-increasing shares of the total capacity of Bell’s fibre-based … backbone network, its fibre-based transport networks, its fibre-fed remotes, or individual copper lines is not only improbable, it defies all logic and reason," CAIP said.

The group, which represents 55 smaller firms across Canada that rent portions of phone companies' networks in order to provide internet service to their own customers, has asked the CRTC for an immediate cease-and-desist order on the traffic-shaping, followed by a more in-depth investigation into the matter. CAIP's request has also been supported by Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc., which is not a member of the group but also rents portions of Bell's network.

CAIP and Primus are part of a growing chorus of voices, which includes the National Union of Public and General Employees, the NDP and the government's standing committee on heritage, that are calling on the CRTC for tougher, so-called "net neutrality" measures to protect against large companies controlling the internet. A net neutrality protest led by TekSavvy, a CAIP member based in Chatham, Ont., is scheduled for May 15 on Parliament Hill.

CRTC spokesman Denis Carmel said the regulator would make a ruling on CAIP's request for an interim order sometime in May.

Bell alone in throttling

In its filing, the group said Bell is alone among large phone providers in claiming congestion and the resultant need for throttling. Telus Corp., MTS Allstream Inc. and SaskTel have all told they do not engage in traffic shaping.

Some Canadian cable providers, which do not rent their networks to smaller ISPs, are throttling their networks, but this is likely because they are built differently and do not operate like the phone companies' networks, CAIP said.

CAIP reiterated the position it took in its initial complaint to the CRTC, filed April 4, that Bell is throttling speeds because of its move away from unlimited service toward usage-based billing, where customers are charged depending on how much they download. Bell introduced speed throttling to its own retail service, Sympatico, in November, then extended it to those ISPs renting portions of its network in mid-March — the same time it stopped offering unlimited download plans to its own customers.  

"[It's] a decision which Bell knew might cause its retail customers to migrate to the unlimited usage plans of competitors," CAIP said.

"These facts suggest that the true explanation for Bell’s throttling measures lies elsewhere, namely in Bell’s desire to disadvantage its competitors in their ability to offer differentiated services and products and to prefer itself in the retail market for internet access services."

Bell officials could not be reached for comment, but the company has denied all of CAIP's charges in its own filing with the CRTC on April 17. Bell's head of regulatory affairs, Mirko Bibic, recently told the CBC's Spark radio program that traffic shaping and download limits were both necessary steps to manage ever-increasing internet use by customers. He denied that any of Bell's actions were anti-competitive in nature.

"What we're doing with network management has nothing to do with trying to prefer one of our business lines over another or one of our business lines over a third-party provider. That's certainly not happening," he said.

Bell has also lodged a leave to appeal with the Federal Court of Canada that seeks to scrap the smaller ISPs' regulated access to portions of its network. The company said such regulation is no longer necessary now that there is enough competition in phone and internet markets.