Rogers and Shaw say they are slowing certain internet applications to reduce congestion and keep internet services reliable and affordable.
"Most carriers are trying to win customers from the other guys and try and keep the customers they have happy, so you should assume … that network management practices are for the benefit of customers," Ken Englehart, senior vice-president of regulatory issues for Rogers, told a hearing before the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission in response to questions from the commission.
The CRTC hearings are being held to establish guidelines on practices that internet service providers use to manage traffic and congestion on their networks. For example, the guidelines may say whether or not ISPs would be allowed to throttle — selectively slow down — peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing applications as some ISPs, including Rogers, do now.
Monday was originally supposed to be the last day, but the CRTC decided to postpone Bell Aliant's appearance at the hearing until Tuesday morning.
Rogers, like most ISPs that have addressed the commission, argued against any regulation of traffic management methods.
' If you're denying your retail customers access to information about what type of traffic management practices you're putting in place, how are customers supposed to make an informed decision about the choice of providers they want to have? ' — Suzanne Lamarre, CRTC commissioner
"The internet is too new and is changing too quickly," Englehart said.
Englehart told the CRTC that Rogers throttles P2P uploads all the time as they create traffic throughout that puts a strain on its network that the "consumer-grade internet service" is not intended to support.
Earlier in the day, the Union des consommateurs, a Quebec consumer advocacy group, had suggested that large ISPs target such applications not to deal with congestion, but to prevent competition with arms of their business that deliver services such as video-on-demand.
Englehart denied this, saying that it's not the content, but two other characteristics of P2P transfers that the company is targeting:
- Their ability to start and run automatically 24 hours a day without human intervention.
- Their ability to take advantage of any additional bandwidth available.
"If any other application — one that was designed to cure cancer [for example] had the same characteristics — we would have to manage it because we have a network that's designed to be a shared use network," he said.
Non-throttling methods would upset users: Rogers
The CRTC commissioners asked about other possible methods of controlling such as:
- Charging for excess use.
- Temporarily slowing down heavy users — regardless of what they were using the internet for — during times of heavy congestion.
Englehart said he thought those would upset a lot of people, as the first would require a low cap before excess charges kicked in.
The second would affect applications such as sending photos or voice calls over the internet.
"We don't want to do that," he said, adding that the company aims for happy customers.
Following Rogers, the commission heard from:
- Quebecor Media on behalf of the ISP Vidéotron.
- Shaw Communications Inc.
Shaw said it currently throttles peer-to-peer uploads only during times of congestion, but those periods could occur at any time during the day.
Vidéotron said it does not throttle but relies on extra charges for heavy users to control congestion. Company executives said that has worked so far, and has even curbed peer-to-peer uploads to some extent. However, the company said it does not want any guidelines concerning traffic management because things could change in the future.
If companies err in deciding what techniques to use, the market will fix the mistakes, said Dennis Béland, director of regulatory affairs for Quebecor.
In contrast to smaller ISPs, which complained last week that there was little competition in the marketplace, all three ISPs represented at Monday's hearing insisted that competition was fierce and customers could choose another ISP if they didn't like one ISP's practices.
ISPs consider traffic management strategies 'sensitive'
All three were opposed to giving much information about their traffic management practices to customers, such as the internet speed of applications being throttled. Both Rogers and Shaw said they did not feel the information would be useful to their customers, and Engelhart of Rogers also suggested the information is "competitively sensitive." Rogers executives argued customers have "very little curiosity" about the company's traffic management and all three companies suggested too much information would confuse customers.
Shaw stated that it would provide information about its practices to wholesale but not retail customers, and only if the information could have a "material and adverse effect" on those wholesale customers, who are smaller, competing ISPs. They buy internet service from Shaw at regulated rates and sell it to their own customers.
CRTC commissioner Suzanne Lamarre questioned the implications.
"If you're denying your retail customers access to information about what type of traffic management practices you're putting in place, how are customers supposed to make an informed decision about the choice of providers they want to have?"
Jean Brazeau, Shaw's senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, responded that customers will look at factors such as quality and price. After more questions from CRTC commissioner Candice Molnar, Brazeau said existing customers would become aware of new traffic shaping measures through their use of Shaw's internet service.
Rules would stifle innovation: ISPs
While public advocates have argued that allowing certain applications to be throttled could stifle innovation by disadvantaging some new technologies, both Vidéotron and Shaw executives argued the opposite – that disallowing certain types of traffic management could stifle innovation.
Len Katz, vice-chairman of telecommunications for the CRTC, asked how innovation would be stifled by banning certain practices.
Ken Stein, senior vice-president of corporate and regulatory affairs for Shaw, responded that ISPs are currently able to try different technologies and techniques that may be more effective in order to respond to the demands of the market, and would like to be able to continue to do so. Meanwhile, Stein dismissed criticism by those opposed to measures that target particular applications, calling the concerns "speculative."
"They have presented no evidence of any actual problems."