Blogs & Comment

Bell, throttling and quid pro quo

The CRTC rules on usage-based billing. Bell will stop its Internet throttling. Coincidence?

There’s an old saying that always makes me laugh: Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. It’s a particularly poignant maxim when it comes to conspiracy theories and large internet providers. Basically, if you suspect they’re doing something, it’s because they probably are.

That sure looks to be the case with the news that Bell is putting an end to its Internet throttling, or the slowing of file-sharing applications that have supposedly been causing congestion on its network. The move is surprising not just because the company is going to stop slowing the connections of its wholesale customers, which it had previously signaled, but its retail subscribers as well.

Back in October, when the wholesale part of that got out, I speculated that it was part of a quid-pro-quo deal with the CRTC, which was in the process of deciding what to do about Bell’s usage-based billing proposal. As my conspiracy theory went, I posited that Bell was testing the waters on cutting out throttling in exchange for the regulator granting it UBB. It was a sort of “you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours” scenario.

About a month later, the CRTC came out with a UBB ruling that was so complex, nobody really knew what to make of it. Media outlets diverged wildly in how they reported the decision—it was either a win for Bell, a win for small ISPs or somewhere in between, depending on which story you read.

In talking with the small ISPs affected by the decision, it was clear that the biggest of them were not pleased. The regulator got the structure of the concept right, but it messed up the pricing, especially in regards to Bell, they said. As a result, their costs would go up, possibly dramatically, which was the whole point of UBB in the first place.

Bell’s imminent dropping of wholesale and retail throttling, which is supposed to take place before March, seems to edify some of those claims and prove that the decision was in fact a win for the company. As the National Post story puts it, Bell is ending throttling because of investments in its infrastructure and an “effective implementation of usage-based billing practices.”

In a letter to the CRTC, Bell says UBB—or whatever it is that the regulator approved – will do the trick:

This is not to say that (peer-to-peer swapping of large files) no longer has an impact on network congestion. Nevertheless . . . in light of the extensive investments made in additional network capacity, and given economic ITMPs (Internet Traffic Management Practices) in the marketplace, the companies will withdraw the shaping of P2P traffic on the companies’ networks.

While some had speculated that the CRTC’s usage-based billing decision was good news for small ISPs and bad news for Bell, that just isn’t the case if the big company is effectively endorsing the ruling by pulling its throttling. It simply wouldn’t be doing so—for congestion, competition or financial reasons—if it wasn’t satisfied with the UBB decision.

It’s possible that Bell has had a change of heart and really doesn’t believe that throttling is necessary anymore, but it’s far more likely that the company is looking to make its Internet service more appealing than that of rival Rogers, which has in recent months taken over the throttling crown.

Given that Bell recently got into bed with Rogers to buy the Maple Leafs, is a quid-pro-quo with the CRTC on throttling and usage-based billing really that unlikely? It’s a lot more probable than 9/11 being an inside job or there being multiple gunmen in the JFK shooting. Remember: Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.