Yves Mayrand of Cogeco said the company had 'no choice' but to start traffic shaping. ((Emily Chung/CBC))

Internet service providers should be able to slow traffic for certain applications if they see a need and customers aren't interested in the details, Canada's internet regulator was told Friday.

Telus Communications Company, Cogeco Cable Inc., and Barrett Xplore Inc. all told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that they believe existing rules and competition, along with the ability to complain to the commission, are enough to stop ISPs from using traffic management measures to invade privacy or discriminate against competitors. Meanwhile, they need the flexibility to be able to apply those measures quickly when congestion strikes, they said.

They also argued that regulations requiring them to disclose in detail how they manipulate internet traffic are not necessary.

The commission is holding hearings until July 13 in order to develop guidelines for internet service providers specifying how they can manage traffic and congestion on their networks.

Currently, Cogeco throttles — that is, selectively slows down — peer-to-peer uploads at all times for both its retail customers and the customers of ISPs that buy wholesale internet access from it, the company admitted.

'24-7' throttling

Yves Mayrand, Cogeco's vice-president of business affairs, told the commission the company had "no choice" but to use that type of network management, as their cable infrastructure has limited bandwidth for traffic uploaded by its users and some applications are designed to "hoard capacity." The throttling applies to both Cogeco's own retail customers and customers of other ISPs that buy network access wholesale from Cogeco.

The company has since started hitting its heaviest internet users with "excess use" charges, but is not convinced that will change their behaviour, Mayrand said.

He admitted the company has so far told its retail customers only that it is monitoring, managing and protecting the network against "abuse that could affect other customers." The company has not informed its wholesale customers about its throttling practices, but has heard no complaints and has received no requests for more information, Mayrand added.

Telus and Barrett Xplore executives agreed that there should be some disclosure of ISPs' traffic management practices, but details aren't necessary, as customers are not really interested. Nevertheless, Cogeco said it plans to provide some more details to its retail customers in the future.

CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein and commissioner Timothy Denton both asked why Cogeco throttled peer-to-peer traffic "24-7" rather than just during congested periods.

Mayrand responded that a period of congestion could happen at any time and questioned why the company should introduce "complexities and/or uncertainties" by sometimes allowing users to bypass its traffic shaping tool.

Denton also asked Cogeco how long it keeps information used to identify peer-to-peer file transfers from among other traffic, which has raised some privacy concerns. The company said it keeps the information no longer than 30 days and cannot use it to generate personal information. However, if that ever became possible, the information would be subject to existing privacy legislation, Mayrand said.

Telus could turn to traffic shaping: VP


David Neale and Michael Hennessy spoke on behalf of Telus. Hennessy said the company does not currently use any specialized traffic shaping tools but could in the future. ((Emily Chung/CBC))

While Telus doesn't yet use specialized tools to manage traffic on its network, it could if congestion becomes more of a problem, said Michael Henessy, vice-president of regulatory affairs.

David Neale, a senior vice-president who deals with the company's technology strategy, said asking ISPs to deal with capacity issues solely by building more infrastructure as some people have advocated is not realistic, even though it has largely worked for Telus so far.

"We will only invest where we see either a return on investment or a need to compete to protect our business," he said.

The company also expressed concern that further regulation could increase risks for the company.

That was a message echoed by Barrett Xplore, which offers both fixed wireless and satellite internet for rural and remote communities.

Both technologies, especially satellites, require huge investments in order to expand network capacity, said  C.J. Prudham, the company's vice-president and general counsel.

If it is forced to price its service too high to recover the "exorbitant costs associated with increasing capacity on our networks," then the company will fail, Prudham said, "along with the government's objective of extending broadband internet access into rural and remote parts of Canada."

The wholesaler that operates the satellites that serve Barrett Xplore customers throttles internet users that use a very large amount of bandwidth during times of congestion, but does not target particular applications. The solution was the result of discussions between the two parties, Prudham said.

The CRTC is expected to hear from Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc., and Quebecor Media Inc. on behalf of Vidéotron Ltée. on Monday, the last day of the hearings.