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Stop the Throttler

The penny dropped again for me this Tuesday. I understood why the Net Neutrality issue is critical to every Canadian, and why imho we each need to engage with the issue (more on how, shortly).

Let’s start with an analogy.

What would you think of Canada if large companies like Safeway and Best Buy were able to pay to use our roads and highways, and given unlimited access, whereas the small organic farmers, who couldn’t cough up the $1,000,000 (or whatever) had to make do with the bumpy side roads, and could only use them between 3 – 5am?

What would happen to our economy? Who would get ahead, and who would discover this to be an obstacle that so challenging that they’d give up? And as consumers, what would happen to our choices?

That’s what’s at stake with net neutrality.

We all know we live in the “information age”. Where do you get your information? I’m guessing: the internet. it’s our “information highway”. Who provides the information? Right now, it’s entirely democratic – anyone with news to share, ideas to spread, or something to sell – like on Craigs List, or Etsy.

But Bell (and you can bet others will follow suit – Shaw and Rogers already do this, just haven’t gone public with the fact) want to change this. How? By “throttling” (they spin it by calling it “shaping” instead) the internet – some people (and in 2009, this will include companies) are held back on the internet, without even knowing it. Their connection is simply …. slower….

Here’s how it works.
Let’s say you want to sell your jewelry on etsy (for those who don’t know, it’s similar to craigslist, for people to sell their hand-made crafts). One implication could be: etsy doesn’t pay extra, so they are lower priority to the internet service providers (Bell, Shaw etc.). When I visit etsy to try to buy something, the connection is slow and possibly I give up and go visit another site.

Here’s an even more direct implication. Many of you use Skype. Bell, Rogers and Shaw already *can* throttle (slowing the connection) for skype users. Conflict of interest, non?

Now the case Bell etc. make is that peer-to-peer (Bit Torrent or Skype) use is hogging the information highway, and they are simply trying to ensure everyone else gets their fair share. Prima Facie this seems fair enough. But. What’s not discussed are its implications per above. What’s not disclosed/transparent is whether or not there *is* plenty of bandwidth to go ’round, and the argument to shape is just you-know-what in order to grab more profits. I don’t know about you, but certainly neither Bell nor Rogers has remotely enough credibility with me to go on faith with this.

Net Neutrality is all about keeping Bell, Rogers etc. hands off and ensuring we all have the same egalitarian access to the information highway that we have to asphalt highways.

We do know this: even under Bush this practice was banned by Congress, and Obama is unequivocal about protecting net neutrality. But our gov’t and CRTC ruled in favour of Bell last year.

It’s not the end of the story, but it needs Canadians to get informed and engaged on the issue.

If you use craigslist, if you blog, if you are a small business owner with a website, if you use skype, YOU HAVE A STAKE IN THIS.

Here’s how to get involved:

1. Be informed.

2. Support these guys.

3. Join the Stop the Throttle facebook group, and share it with your facebook friends.

4. Sign this online petition.

5. Take action.

About the Author

Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com


  1. Traciatim

    Here is the problem with your analogy, roads are public and Rogers’/Bell’s/Any ISP’s network are not.

    A better analogy would be that you buy a piece of land right in the middle of the city, a real big piece. You then put in a driveway from one end to the other in case you want to go up town or down town. Other people find your driveway and begin using it because it’s faster than the street (because your land is huge and they would otherwise have to go around). You decide that this is fine but install lights to “throttle” the amount of traffic going in any one direction at a time… is that OK? According to your argument it is not.

    How about this analogy. 5 people go in together to buy a house, this house has 10 rooms. 1 of these people is quick with their moving truck lays claim to 6 rooms because the other people were too slow and showed up late, when the other 4 arrive they realize there is only 1 room for each of them . . . is that OK?

    How about another one. Your nice and subscribe to a business internet connection so that you can share your wireless for 5 bucks a month. You set up a router with the SSID of “5 buck Internet” with an acceptable use policy as the starting page (Like a hotel internet connection splash page) distributed by your router asking your users not to abuse your bandwidth or they will be slowed. You try to stream some free online radio and realize there is someone across the hall torrenting a linux ISO so your music keeps cutting out, so you set your router to give them only half the available bandwidth that they could receive otherwise . . . is that OK? That’s what Rogers and Bell do.


    Jan 22, 2009
  2. Point totally taken @traciatim; I should have addressed that critical factor in the post: Fibre networks are not public, but owned by the telecos mentioned.

    But I’d like to reshape your first analogy a little further. Let’s say I bought that piece of land in the middle of the city and built a road for buggies, slightly pre-cars. I little dreamed that cars and trucks would be one day be built, or that ultimately transporting goods and services by car would change the economic game altogether, and that individuals would reshape their romantic and family lives now that they can easily get from point A to point B in their cars. To my great surprise, my road became singularly important to the economy at large, and created a complete sociological shift.

    My road, originally intended to facilitate a few buggies, had been transformed into something much more critical, thanks to the ingenuity of auto-makers (ha! just realized this was a poor choice of analogy, but never mind) and the next phase of innovation – how people and businesses discovered ways to use their cars and trucks.

    I didn’t particularly intend this, I didn’t originally envision this, I didn’t help create this apart from providing the road itself – but now, I want to capitalize on all that innovation, and change the terms and conditions for using my road.

    I am going to throttle the little guys because I can get a lot more from a handful of the big guys. (And I can spin this by pointing out that some of the little guys are actually transporting pot, thus creating the impression that I’m a good guy who just wants to weed these guys out) My throttling will, over time, have extreme ramifications both for society and for the economy. The influence I wield over society and the economy because of my road is wildly disproportionate to my original investment. Not only that – but I have the only road in town, so I don’t have to worry about competition.

    What then? Do I have any responsibility to concede to society’s wishes about how I do business with my road? Or, because it is still my road, do I get to do things my way?

    nancy (aka money coach)’s last blog post..Investing with a conscience


    Jan 22, 2009
  3. Traciatim

    You own the road and get to say how it’s used, that’s it. If someone else wants to make a ‘free and open’ road just down from yours they are free to do so as well.

    There is only so much bandwidth to go around (the amount actually available is a point of contention, but it costs money). When you sign up with Rogers or Bell you agree to their terms of service that your use of the service will not interfere with the service of others or you will face consequences up to and including denial of service. If you don’t like those terms either:

    1) Find an ISP that doesn’t use these terms
    2) Start an ISP that provides users with the terms that you like and see how easy it is to run.

    Lets say Rogers pays to install a 1000Mbps backbone to a small town. They then offer 1, 5, or 10Mbps connections to the local townfolk. They know that not everyone will be using their connection at the same time so, much like the bank you work[ed] for, Rogers sells more physical product than they have. So they sign up 100 10Mbps users, 100 5Mbps users, and 100 1Mbps users. As it turns out all of the 10Mbps users are members of a free gaming community and the game is 2GB, so in order to help the community grow they set up torrent clients on their machines and eat up the entire 1000Mbps sending data out of their town. Now Rogers starts getting piles of calls that the other 200 users can’t get to their webmail because their connections keep timing out. What’s the solution? Allow everyone access to webmail by throttling the torrent bandwidth to 9Mbps each.

    They don’t “Throttle the little guys”, they throttle high bandwidth users. Your 5KB e-mail isn’t going to take an hour to get to you because you watched 3 youtube videos today. Though if you’ve downloaded 25GB in the past two days you may see your transfer drop from optimum speed (but your e-mail and web browsing will still work full speed).

    To put it another way, if your not downloading a full DVD (~5GB) a day on a personal (IE, Not business) connection, then stop whining because it doesn’t effect you anyway.

    FYI, Skype uses at max about 16KB/s of bandwidth while talking, so if you stayed on a call for a full 10 hours you would transfer at max 576000KB of data, or 562MB, or 0.55GB. In comparison on a 10Mbps connection downloading from multiple sources and also sending data out to multiple sources for 10 hours you would download 1200KB/s and can send about 120KB/s for a total bandwidth usage of 1320KB/s, or 47520000KB per 10 hours, or 46406MB, or 45.3GB of data (over 8000% more) , plus many power users run things like this for days/weeks/months at a time . . . is that really fair?

    As I say this my home machine is running three torrents, so it’s not like I’m a shill or anything, but at some point the excessive usage has to be curtailed somehow or the whole network suffers. I would say that a better way to solve the problem is to force companies to only sell what they can actually provide. You advertise 10Mbps to my house, then I want to be able to download my 3012GB every 30 days… can’t provide the service? Don’t advertise it as such, sell 1Mbps connections that you can provide instead.


    Jan 23, 2009
  4. Hi Nancy, you asked me to comment on this thread, so here goes:

    Network neutrality is sometimes used as an umbrella term, but it doesn’t really include throttling. Here are the first few words of two wikipedia articles (traffic shaping, network neutrality):

    [Throttling =]Traffic shaping (also known as “packet shaping”) is the control of computer network traffic in order to optimize or guarantee performance, lower latency, and/or increase usable bandwidth by delaying packets that meet certain criteria. More specifically, traffic shaping is any action on a set of packets (often called a stream or a flow) which imposes additional delay on those packets such that they conform to some predetermined constraint (a contract or traffic profile).

    Network neutrality (equivalently net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for residential broadband networks and potentially for all networks. A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.

    Throttling is a matter purely between the individual (heavy) internet user and his ISP. It’s the ISP’s way of limiting the heavy user’s “over-use” of the good/service that user has been sold. The user has been sold a 10Mbps connection, BUT it’s with the understanding that they won’t fully use up all those 10Mbps all the time, because really the ISP doesn’t have the capacity to serve all of its users at maximum speed all the time. One interpretation is that they have “oversold” their capacity. Another interpretation is that they promise peak speeds of 10Mbps with the understanding/expectation/condition that their customers won’t abuse this nifty, fast connection and go full speed all the time. As Traciatim said in his first comment, the end-user buys the service from the ISP under the condition that their behavior won’t negatively impact other users’ experience.

    A breach of network neutrality is a matter that’s decided (conditions and price) between a content provider company (e.g. CNN, Disney, Facebook, eBay) and ISPs. The agreement would be for example that Shaw promises Disney to let any traffic from Disney, ABC, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Pictures, History Channel, A&E Network, etc. etc. etc.) get preferential treatment above traffic from non-Disney companies; content from Disney owned entities will be routed through to the ISP’s customers quickly, while content from competitors (who didn’t pay up) will be delayed in transit. The negative impact is to a third party, namely the individual internet user (the ISP’s customer).

    For my personal opinions: I think throttling is kinda-sorta-OK (I’d rather be throttled by my ISP when they think I “overuse” capacity than get disconnected by my ISP for “breach of contract”), but I’m a staunch believer in net neutrality.


    Jan Karlsbjerg’s last blog post..A month of free software – 22. FileHippo.com Update Checker


    Jan 23, 2009
  5. Traciatim

    @Jan Karlsbjerg, why do you think it’s OK to limit how a business can sell it’s products?

    If we move this to the grocery store assume that floor space is the premium (bandwidth). Stores regularly place higher margin products in certain areas in order to get more profits, and place advertising at key points to run promotions for companies for profit. Why aren’t you all for ‘Floorspace Neutrality’?

    A Pontiac dealership only puts Pontiac cars on their lots. It would be much easier if Ford and Nissan could put their competing cars directly on Pontiac’s lot so that consumers could compare and buy the most appropriate car. Where is the ‘Car Lot Neutrality’ movement?

    Some people live in large houses with one room per person and others live in small apartments where their kids bunk and share a room . . . what about the ‘Housing Neutrality’ movement?

    Unless the network is a shared expense of all (A Canada wide network put in place by the Government of Canada) then this argument shouldn’t be taking place.

    Don’t like the policy of the ISP? Switch ISPs, or start your own. That’s the way the system here works. If someone were to put together a ‘Net Neutral Verified’ ISP, and people flocked to it costing Rogers and Bell large amounts of income, they would change too. Legislating how companies can do business with their own property is not the answer here.


    Jan 24, 2009
  6. In part my resistance against allowing ISPs to break network neutrality is motivated by political opinion or social consciousness: I like to look out for the little guy. And in this case there are two “little guys” versus two “big guys”: The consumer and the non-paying content providers are the little guys, and the ISP and the paying content providers are the big guys. And as both an internet user and a blog writer (and an employee in a medium-sized internet-centric company), I fit both of the “little guy” roles.

    Also, I just loathe the argument that the ISPs put forth:

    Some content producers send a LOT of data through our pipes, straining our infrastructure, and they’re not paying us for that! They’re using our pipes for free!

    Google, Disney, CNN, etc. already pay a lot of money to their own internet service providers, hosting companies, etc: They pay to get their stuff online and within reach of consumers. And the consumers pay their own ISP for access to the internet. So all the pipes and all the traffic flowing through them are already being paid for.

    Getting Google, Disney, CNN etc. to pay for access to the consumer would mean that the ISPs were able to extract payment multiple times for the last mile. Of course that’s to their advantage, and of course they would like to see that happen, but the fact remains that all the pipes and all the traffic is already being paid for. If the ISPs’ pipes are strained because of heavy use and the ISPs aren’t making enough money from the consumers to expand the infrastructure, that just means that the ISPs have oversold their production capacity, their bandwidth capabilities, and that they should raise prices for their customers in order to get the money to grow their infrastructure.

    I think the analogies in your latest comment fall short of the mark because they both include an implicit, extra choice compared to the ISP network neutrality situation:

    1. If the consumer finds themselves on a Pontiac dealership lot (the branding would actually be GM, not Pontiac, but this part of the analogy holds fine anyway) and they don’t like the selection, it’s trivial to walk down the block to the Ford dealership lot.

    2. The grocery store is a much better example. Not because of the high margin items; ISPs already do the same: They offer many different bundles of internet, phone, cable TV services, and they try hard to sell the one that will make them the most money, both to new and existing customers.

    No, I like the grocery store example because stores actually do sell preferential access to consumers to their providers. The brands (or wholesale distributors) who are willing to pay (give discounts to the store) will get the best spots in the store, more shelf space, in-store promotional signs, and generally the most flattering surroundings of their physical products.

    We’re all being manipulated in this way when we’re in retail stores, and as a consumer when I think about it, it feels unpleasant (I don’t like being manipulated). But regardless of my feelings about it, it’s a fact of life. And still: We have an easy choice to go somewhere else.

    But private internet users don’t face the daily choice of using the pipes from ISP1 or ISP2. As far as the individual internet customer’s internet use, his/her ISP has an effective monopoly. The customer is locked in with, say, 30 days’ termination notice. To use the store analogy, it’s like living in a remote village, there’s a 30 day waiting list for a moving truck to move to the next (equally isolated) village, and there’s only one store in the village (and no mail order or internet shopping).

    Except for the part about no mail order shopping, communities of villages like that do exist, for example in Greenland and arctic Canada. But you’ll usually find that the stores are under a high degree of political control (sometimes even government owned) exactly to protect the interests of the customers.

    Of course the switching costs (monetary and certainly psychological) are much greater for moving from one isolated village to another than it is to switch ISPs. On the other hand there are fewer ISPs than villages out there, and it would only take a couple of meetings for 6-10 ISPs to agree on a date where they all start selling preferential access to their customers. If that happens, the consumer’s choice will be completely gone.

    Jan Karlsbjerg’s last blog post..A month of free software – 22. FileHippo.com Update Checker


    Jan 24, 2009

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