Tales of the Sausage Factory

Canada Adopts Comcast/Bitorrent Standard For Network Management

On the eve of the FCC’s upcoming Network Neutrality rulemaking, Canada has now settled its definition of “reasonable network management” and set rules for traffic throttling. Amazingly, the rules the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) settled on for “reasonable network management” look a lot like the standard our own FCC settled on in the Comcast/BitTorrent Order, but even stronger on the notice and transparency side. Hopefully, the FCC is paying attention here as it considers its own rulemaking on the definition of “reasonable network management.”

You can read the CRTC press release here and the detailed order here. The CRTC also says that it will sue this new framework “to review practices that raise concerns or generate complaints.” i.e., it will treat this as the equivalent of the Internet Policy Statement and entertain complaints like the Comcast/BitTorrent complaint.

While this means I will no longer have my realtime experiment to see if unrestricted traffic shaping screws up broadband, it does make the FCC look less like whacked out nutbars who don’t understand engineering and threaten the entire internet and more like foresighted regulators who are ready now to move on to a formal rulemaking rather than merely rely on a framework.

Moe below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Canada Continues To Play With Itself For My Amusement — CRTC Allows New Tarrif for Metered/Capacity Limited Wholesale Services.

Back in December, I was very excited by the decision of the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to permit Bell Canada to throttle traffic for its wholesale customers. This represented the first OECD country taking a major step away from mandatory unbundling since the FCC deregulated our telcos in 2005. As a lover of empirical data, the thought of another country playing games with its critical infrastructure to test market absolutism struck me as a welcome relief from the U.S. always playing the guinea pig on free market absolutism.

And now, CRTC has gone further. In this Order, the CRTC approves an interim tariff for usage based billing (UBB) or, as we would call it here, metered billing with a capacity cap. I’m not sure if, reading this, it merely permits Bell Canada to offer a wholesale metered plan or if it allows Bell Canada to drop their unmetered plans and offer only metered plans. If the later, CRTC has pretty much delegated the entire industry structure over to Bell Canada. But even if this is just an option, it lets Bell Canada set the business model for how ISPs can do metered billing. So again, Bell Canada is going to have pretty tremendous influence on how the business model for DSL delivery evolves going forward.

Bell Canada had also asked for a fairly steep charge against an ISP if the ISP could not identify the specific customer using capacity, since that would evade the capacity cap. Happily for independent ISPs in Canada, the CRTC decided to hold off on that one for a bit.

As always, I shall be very interested to see what happens as a result. It’s always rare to see a similarly situated country willing to become a laboratory for experiments with its critical infrastructure. I look forward to seeing multi-year data on what happens to their broadband penetration, pricing, and overall use as a consequence.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

BitTorrent Employs Self-Help After CRTC Ruling. Net Neutrality Folks Called It Right So Far.

Well that certainly didn’t take long.

Richard Bennett has an article at The Register describing BitTorrent, Inc.’s new method for circumventing traffic throttling. Essentially (if I understand it), BitTorrent has altered the way in which its uTorrent P2P application will work. Instead of relying on the Transfer Control Protocol (TCP) uTorrent will now use the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) to move packets. Richard describes what this means and the potential impact of this better than I can. Critically, however, Richard describes this as a means by which BitTorrent can avoid Bell Canada’s targeted traffic management by disguising the nature of its traffic as latency-intolerant (like voice over IP (VOIP))and therefore given priority over other traffic. You can see some discussion of this as a response to the CRTC decision to allow Bell Canada to manage traffic here at DSL Reports.

As I observed only last week, the CRTC decision presents a splendid opportunity to grab some popcorn and watch some other country play games with its critical infrastructure. Mind, since the internet is a global “network of networks,” what happens in Canada is likely to impact me here in the U.S. as well. But I can’t do anything about that. So pardon me whilst I munch my popcorn and enjoy a good dose of Cassandrafruede (a term of my own invention which means “the bitter pleasure experienced when something awful you predicted that could have been avoided if people had listened to you comes to pass, even though you also get screwed through no fault of your own”).

More analysis to go with my popcorn below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Pass the Popcorn! CRTC Offers Great Opportunity To Watch Someone Else Play With Critical Infrastructure.

According to this official news release, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) denied a request from the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) to stop Bell Canada from throttling without notice the traffic of rival ISPs leasing access to Bell Canada’s network. Instead, CRTC punted to a general inquiry on traffic shaping.

According to Michael Geist, expert on all things telecom and Candian and general super-smart guy, this is not the last word from the CRTC on the question. But since — according to the public notice — the first public hearing on the subject is scheduled for July 9, 2009, Canadian ISPs can look forward to a considerable period of time when they live at the mercy of their largest rival.

This does not depress me, as I do not live in Canada. Rather, I am excited at the prospect of some other country (for a change) deciding to make offerings to the Gods of the Marketplace and play games with its critical infrastructure while I get to watch. Until now, Canada has generally been outranking us in the international rankings on penetration, although it ranks less well on affodability and only so-so on speed (as compared to countries with real broadband). Those who see such things as relevant (and not everybody does, the situation is complex and the data messy, hard to come by, and subject to multiple interpretations) generally regard this as a consequence of bad policy choices by the FCC (again, not everyone agrees, the data — to the extent we even have data — is very messy and complex). In particular, a lot of us think that the decision to eliminate mandatory wholesale access and rely on “intermodal” competition was a phenomenally bad idea.

Now we may get a chance over the next few years to test this hypothesis, and at someone else’s expense! Go Canada!

More below . . . .

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