Outcry over BitTorrent blocking stretches to Canada

Canadians are joining Americans in their outcry over ISPs allegedly blocking BitTorrent and other P2P applications. Now, two Canadian groups have now asked the privacy commissioner to investigate the activities of Bell Canada.

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Internet Clinic (CIPPIC) is accusing Bell Canada of failing to obtain consent from its Internet customers around the use of deep-packet inspection (DPI), a technology capable of reporting on how subscribers are using their Internet connections.

Bell is employing DPI to find and limit the use of BitTorrent and other P2P applications, which it claims are congesting its network.

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The Ottawa-based CIPPIC has now asked Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart to examine how Bell and other Canadian ISPs -- including Rogers Communications, Shaw Communications Inc., Cogeco Inc. and Eastlink -- are using so-called "traffic shaping" technologies such as DPI.

Comprised mostly of lawyers and law students from the University of Ottawa, CIPPIC now alleges that Bell Canada has failed to show its network is congested and that limiting P2P applications is necessary. The group also accuses Bell Canada of violating Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

DPI does have its fans. In one recent report, industry analysts at the Yankee Group argued that DPI can be an invaluable tool for ISPs to prioritize traffic based on what the customer has paid for, and to established "tiered services" along the lines of the old "platinum," "gold," and "silver" model.

The right to provide tiered services is the current crux of the net neutrality debate in the US Congress.

But other advocates worry that ISPs could abuse these technologies. In April, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers -- representing 55 smaller ISPs who rent portions of Bell's network -- entered a complaint that Bell Canada is invading users' privacy in a document filed with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In the US, during FCC hearings held in February in Massachusetts, US ISP Comcast argued that technology used on its network "does not block any Web site, application, or Web protocol." But David L. Cohen, Comcast's executive VP, did admit to "a limited form of network management," in which requests for file uploads are "delayed" but not "blocked," and only when periods of high network traffic and other conditions prevail.

After a public outcry over Comcast's apparent use of hired "seat warmers" to keep its opponents from attending the FCC hearing, New York State Attorney General Andrew C. Cuomo reportedly subpoenaed Comcast's records to explore how Comcast is handling P2P file sharing through programs such as BitTorrent.

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