Bell advised the CRTC yesterday that it plans to drop all peer-to-peer traffic shaping (often called throttling) as of March 1, 2012. While the decision has been described as surprising or as quid pro quo for the usage based billing ruling, I think it is neither of those. The writing was on the wall in October when Bell announced that it was dropping the traffic shaping for wholesale traffic, citing reduced network congestion from P2P. At the time I wrote that the Bell move:
raises the prospect that Bell’s current throttling practices may now violate the CRTC’s Internet traffic management guidelines. While Bell says its congestion has been reduced, its retail throttling practices have remained unchanged, throttling P2P applications from 4:30 pm to 2:00 am. Given the decline in congestion, a CRTC complaint might ask whether the current throttling policy “results in discrimination or preference as little as reasonably possible” and ask for explanation why its data cap policies “would not reasonably address the need and effectively achieve the same purpose as the ITMP.”
The CRTC Internet traffic management practice policy, often referred to as the net neutrality rules, make it clear that the Commission prefers network investment and “economic ITMPs” (ie. usage charges) to traffic shaping. The Bell letter to the CRTC addresses this directly, citing its network investment, the use of economic ITMPs, and declining P2P file sharing as a proportion of network traffic as the reason for the change. Given the CRTC rules, Bell had little choice but to drop traffic shaping since it was increasingly difficult to justify given network and marketplace developments.
The big question is now how much longer Rogers will maintain its throttling practices. Most of the larger Canadian ISPs no longer traffic shape (Cogeco seems to have quietly dropped it after maintaining just two years ago that it had no other alternative), leaving Rogers as the outlier. Moreover, the company is currently facing an enforcement action for violating the CRTC ITMP rules with respect to the impact its throttling practices have had on online gaming. The company might try hold out for awhile, but given the network congestion profile in Canada and CRTC pressure to address its net neutrality violations, it seems likely that it will follow Bell’s lead or face further complaints that its practices do not comply with CRTC policy.