When It All Goes Peer Shaped

Net neutrality has slipped away even further in Canada recently, as Bell has “shaped” the bandwidth available to ISPs that rent space on the network from Bell, slowing down peer-to-peer transmissions in some cases from 5MB/sec to 60KB/sec. Bell has apparently shaped the traffic of its own direct customers for some time, but has until now kept their hands off other ISPs. The Globe and Mail article reporting this story estimates that p2p traffic accounts for something like 80% of online bandwidth use — that by perhaps 10% of all users.

The issue of throttling (as this restriction is sometimes called) in Canada is explored somewhat more fully in an article on Ars Technica.

Part of the problem seems to be that Bell’s and Rogers’ networks are insufficient to meet the demand for bandwidth, which is growing faster than expected. (Think YouTube…) Canadian bandwidth available to ordinary customers is poor by comparison with what is available in other developed countries. This, from an OECD report last year:

Japan, France, Korea, Sweden, and New Zealand led all countries surveyed in advertised broadband download speeds (see Figure 1). Japan led all countries with an advertised 93,693 Mbits per second speed, followed by France at 44,157 Mb/s, Korea at 43,301 Mb/s, Sweden 21,423 Mb/s, and New Zealand at 13,595 Mb/s broadband speed. The UK came in 12th at 10,624 Mb/s while the US came in at 14th at 8,860 Mb/sec.

Canada is 15th at 7.797 Mb/sec. behind Finland and Portugal, as well as the others named.


  1. New Zealand’s actual broadband speeds are such that even 5 Mb/s is more of a dream than a reality, in both commercial or residential settings. Sadly!

  2. There are two ends to this discussion, i.e. two places where the telecoms can influence traffic: ‘shaping’ or ‘throttling’ at the consumer end, and charging extra rates to – or slowing transmission from – different sources of content. The latter has been the focus of much of the net neutrality discussion in the US: will telecoms charge e.g Google or eBay higher rates because a lot of people use their bandwidth (or because they compete with the telecoms’ own services)?

    The other end of it is charging consumers more for greater bandwidth. This is not new. What is new(ish) is not giving consumers what they have paid for. It seems undesirable for telecoms to throttle bandwidth without admitting it.

    Someone has to pay for bandwidth, and in my view it should not be the content providers, since that will favour big providers over small or innovative or unpopular but important providers. So it will end up being the consumers, since ultimately the telecoms are just intermediaries (albeit with their own content interests, to complicate analysis). But honest disclosure should be the policy and the law – and of course already is, if it could be enforced economically.

    So if I want to stream movies, it will cost me more than if I just want to read Slaw. Fair enough, say I. My son the denizen of World of Warcraft or my daughter the movie buff may disagree. I guess who pays for the household’s bandwidth is a matter for a Family Meeting!