Technology & Science

Telus says Bell should pay for internet throttling dispute

Telus Corp. is supporting consumer groups and small service providers in seeking legal costs from Bell Canada Inc. in a dispute over the throttling of internet speeds.

Telus Corp. is supporting consumer groups and small service providers in seeking legal costs from Bell Canada Inc. in a dispute over the throttling of internet speeds.

In a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission dated Sept. 16, Telus said it agrees with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, who say that because Bell started the whole argument over throttling, the company should be liable for all the costs whether it wins or loses the dispute.

"Telus agrees with PIAC that the apportionment for liability for costs be allocated solely to Bell Canada," wrote the company's vice-president of policy and regulatory affairs, Ted Woodhead. "The application by CAIP [to the CRTC] was precipitated by Bell Canada’s actions."

The fight started after Bell extended its practice of slowing down the speeds of certain internet uses to members of CAIP, a group of more than 50 small companies that rent portions of its network to provide customers with broadband access. CAIP complained to the CRTC, which in May launched an inquiry into whether Bell's throttling of wholesale customers is a violation of the Telecommunications Act. The regulator is expected to make a ruling by the end of October.

Over the past few weeks, not-for-profit groups including PIAC, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic and Quebec's Union des consommateurs have filed applications with the CRTC seeking costs from Bell. The groups say that although the issue is a competitive dispute between Bell and CAIP, consumers have a big stake in the outcome, which is why they made submissions to the investigation. Those submissions, which were in total agreement with CAIP's complaint, required many costly hours to put together — time that Bell should pay for, they say.

"The consumer groups, CIPPIC and Union des consommateurs intervened as they were concerned that the competitive nature of the CAIP application would not bring all of the subscriber concerns to the commission, despite the fact that ultimately, it was the subscribers that were experiencing the degradation of performance without recourse," wrote PIAC counsel John Lawford in a letter dated Sept 10.

CAIP also argued in a letter dated Sept. 3 that it is a not-for-profit association, and that Bell is solely responsible for the dispute.

"Bell has manufactured a crisis, engaged in highly controversial self-help measures that it knew would disrupt the provision of retail services by CAIP’s members to their end-user customers and forcibly transferred to CAIP’s members the burden, inconvenience and entirely unforeseen expense of bringing this application," wrote CAIP president Tom Copeland.

Bell rejects calls for costs

Bell has rejected suggestions that it should be liable for all costs, and that CAIP is not a non-profit group since it is made up of many smaller commercial companies. Bell has said CAIP should be responsible for one third of the investigation's cost.

Telus, which says it does not throttle speeds on its own network, made a submission to the CRTC investigation in July and supported Bell. The company said it did not believe Bell had violated the Telecommunications Act by extending its throttling practice to wholesale customers. It also pointed out that CAIP's dispute was limited to Bell, so any CRTC decision should not be extended to Telus.

Consumer groups found Telus's support in seeking legal costs surprising, given the company had backed Bell during the investigative process.

"I don't really know why Telus is supporting us on this one," Lawford said. "Are they trying to differentiate themselves by saying they don't traffic shape? That would be a good [reason]."

Telus's Woodhead did not return a request for comment. Telus spokesman Jim Johannsson said the company was not necessarily siding with PIAC or CAIP, but it did not feel it should have to pay over an issue that doesn't concern it.

"All we are saying is that it wasn't our issue so we shouldn't be asked to pay their costs," he said. 

In a related affair, Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable provider, said it intended to file details of its past and future internet throttling practices with the Federal Communications Commission by Friday evening. The FCC last month found the company guilty of violating internet subscribers' rights by throttling speeds of peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent and ordered Comcast to stop. The regulator gave the company until midnight Friday to divulge its network management plans.

Consumer groups in the United States were eagerly waiting Comcast's disclosure.

"We hope that with today's filing, Comcast will finally lift the heavy veil of secrecy that shrouds its illegal blocking. After more than a year of deception and evasion, Comcast has left its millions of subscribers with many questions unanswered," said Ben Scott, the policy director of Free Press, in a statement. "Full disclosure to the FCC and the public should be Comcast's top priority. If any cable or phone company cannot provide the high-speed network it advertises, subscribers deserve to know the limits of the service they are buying."