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Bell to continue playing Net traffic warden

CRTC turns down request to stop practice

Bell Canada will continue with the controversial practice of slowing Internet traffic on the wholesale networks it leases to rivals after the federal regulator turned down a request yesterday to stop the practice until a final decision is issued later this year.

The CRTC's interim ruling means the third-party Internet service providers must find ways of dealing with the change to their service.

Since mid-March, Bell has been restricting or "shaping" certain kinds of Internet traffic on its wholesale networks. The typical target is peer-to-peer traffic for large video files. That goes against the "net neutrality" mantra, which holds that Internet providers have no business interfering with the flow of Web traffic.

The companies that rent those networks say their connections have slowed, upsetting subscribers.

Last month, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) called on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to issue an immediate "cease and desist" order to end the practice.

While the CRTC found Bell's throttling policies represent a "serious issue," it says CAIP didn't provide enough evidence that its members will suffer "irreparable harm."

The CRTC now plans to start a public proceeding into the matter, and will make a final ruling in the fall. It will issue a letter today on the process.

CAIP will decide what to do next after its sees the letter, said Tom Copeland, CAIP's chairman.

"I don't think people should read anything into this," Mr. Copeland said yesterday.

"This is not a statement on net neutrality by the commission. They've simply looked at our request for relief to see if it meets a certain legal requirement. We felt it did and we feel that it is unfortunate that they did not look at the balance of convenience or the public good."

Bell, a unit of Montreal-based BCE Inc., insists it was a necessary move, and one it has implemented for its own network as well. As more users consume bigger amounts of bandwidth, it argues it must keep Web traffic moving by regulating its flow.

Bell says smaller rivals have other options, including setting up their own networks or going to another big Internet company. It points out it invests hundreds of millions each year on its Internet and other networks. So far, none of its third-party Internet customers have cancelled their service.

"We're certainly going to continue with executing on our strategy to address the issue of ever-increasing bandwidth consumption on the Internet," said Bell's chief of regulatory affairs, Mirko Bibic.

BCE (BCE)

Close: $38.98, down 12¢

© The Globe and Mail

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