How Bell will charge you for using Netflix

If they can’t throttle you, they’ll make you pay


ian boyd/Flickr

This week, Bell Canada, announced that it will cease its long-standing practice of throttling (stunting the speed of) BitTorrent traffic. Throttling has been a controversial practice of Internet providers–one that Bell has long argued it absolutely needs to do in order to stop “bandwidth hogs” from slowing speeds for everyone (only in Canada’s competition-deprived telecom industry would a company actually call its own customers “hogs” for using too much of the service they provide).

So why did Bell have such a radical change of heart?

The reason given was that peer-to-peer traffic like BitTorrent just isn’t that big a problem anymore. Video streaming is the new bandwidth hog and p2p can finally be left alone.

This doesn’t really wash. There’s been no significant decrease in peer to peer traffic. It is true that p2p represents a decreasing percentage of overall traffic. But this is simply because video streaming is on the rise. It follows that Bell shouldn’t be ending its policy of throttling BitTorrnet traffic—it should be throttling Netflix as well!

But Netflix is a legitimate commercial service with growing mainstream usage. Fifteen-year-old BitTorrent users watch Netflix and so do their moms and dads, who pay the monthly ISP bills. Slowing Netflix streams down to a crawl at 8 p.m. on a Thursday might result in a Bell boycott.

The truth is that Bell (or Rogers, which owns Maclean’s and also throttles) has yet to back up the “bandwidth hog” argument with data. We have no reason to believe the strange notion that Internet users, by using the Internet, are making the Internet slower for other Internet users. What we do know conclusively is that BitTorrent competes with Bell’s satellite and “Fibe” TV service. So does Netflix. If customers are using Bell Internet to watch video, they may be less inclined to also buy TV access from Bell.

Bell has always had a competitive reason to throttle BitTorrent, and the association of torrents with piracy has provided them with the cover [needed] they need to publicly disparage those who use this particular method of moving around zeros and ones. No such libel will stick to Netflix subscribers. Throttling them would be a bald anti-competitive gesture that could spark talks of anti-trust.

Instead, Bell will spitefully tax those of us who opt for Over The Top (OTT) TV. Their most popular plans allow for 25-50 gigs of transfer per month (similarly priced plans in the U.S. allow for 250 gigs). That’ll give you ten nights or so of high resolution TV, whether you get it from BitTorrent or from Netflix. After that, you bust your cap and are hit with overage fees of $2/gig, up to a max of $60. That’s about what you’d pay for a decent Bell TV package. So if you get your Internet through them, whether you’re a Bell TV subscriber or not, you’re paying Bell to watch TV.

If you can’t throttle them, charge them.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown


How Bell will charge you for using Netflix

  1. [disclaimer: I work for one of the big ISPs. I don’t work in the consumer space, or the Internet space, and I’m not speaking on their behalf]

    “We have no reason to believe the strange notion that Internet users, by
    using the Internet, are making the Internet slower for other Internet

    Well, we do know conclusively that Internet traffic continues to grow exponentially, with OTT video increasing the rate of growth. We also know conclusively that traffic growth drives capex and opex to maintain levels of service. And we know conclusively that without that additional spend, a carrier’s network will slow down for all users.

    “Instead, Bell will spitefully tax those of us who opt for Over The Top (OTT) TV.”

    Slow down. You haven’t exactly slain the carriers’ rationale for usage based billing, so it’s kind of a leap to claim that spite is the motivation, or that Bell is now maneuvering against Netflix. UBB has been around for years, always with the rationale that price should be linked to costs.

    Your basic claim is that ISPs should provide unlimited Internet usage to everyone (presumably without allowing service levels to suffer). If you want the rest of this article to stick, I think you need to make a convincing argument about UBB first.

    • Perhaps you should take the time to read Jesse’s previous posts, or even listen to his TVO audio podcast. UBB is discussed and debated considerably…

      • Well, I just quickly scanned his posts going back through to May and don’t see any reference to UBB. If he’s slain that dragon, seems to me he should include a link.

        Perhaps you could summarize his takedown of UBB.

        • You can read all the articles at Maclean’s that have been tagged UBB. http://www2.macleans.ca/tag/ubb/
          Besides what Jesse has written, you should check out Nowak’s posts. They are pretty much on the same page regarding UBB…

          • Thanks, that’s helpful.

            On my earlier point (not aimed at you at all), I have to point out that the most recent meaningful discussion of UBB itself dates back to February… from a different author (Nowak) on an unaffiliated site (Nowak’s private blog): http://wordsbynowak.com/2011/02/22/10-myths-from-usage-based-billing-supporters/

            And that post is weak, weak, weak. Nowak, if you’re reading this, you scored maybe one point out of the ten you tried to make.

            Going back through February on the UBB-tagged posts, there’s not a serious challenge to UBB to be found. If anybody here can offer anything besides griping, poor arguments and strawmen against UBB, I would love to see it.

            Sam Davies: thanks for the pointers, much appreciated.

    • you should also disclose that internet and video traffic share different frequencies on the same line, and therefore do not slow each other down.

      internet traffic is internet traffic. it does not matter if you are downloading a movie or a large ISO disc image, its the same traffic. 

      It will never interfere with phone or tv services.

      • I’m not sure I follow you.

        For an over-the-top service like Vonage (phone) or Netflix (tv), your traffic is carried over the “Internet” bandwidth. Starting a Netflix movie is the same as starting any other very large download and uses the carrier’s Internet access network.

        For the carrier’s own TV service, that depends on the architecture. The cable companies broadcast (essentially all of) their video, so when you watch their TV service, it’s truly separate from their Internet service.

        The phone companies use DSL to deliver TV into your house, as well as switched TV over IP (this is Fibe and Optik, as well as AT&T’s uVerse). When you start a TV show, it will use some of the capacity on your DSL line and slow down your Internet access, but shouldn’t affect anyone else. This only uses an IP service for access to your home.

  2. Simple solution, do not use Bell or Rogers. As they have a monopoly, and as a corporations they are duty bound to make make as much profit as possible, meaning they are not your friends.  If you have an option of using a smaller ISP use it.  As for TV, well if that’s worth the grand or so a year then go ahead, Netflix at less then a tenth of the cost has plenty to watch. 

  3. Four Words : Aol Canada Unlimited Bandwith

    • This is the way to go, we should not have to be treated with such hostility for using internet services we pay for. Not all torrents are for content such as TV or music. The only real problem I’ve had with AOL with over 5 years is that sometimes if the internet goes down it takes a bit longer to get back up but I cannot complain otherwise.

  4. Simple solution – Cancel your Bhell internet and go with an unlimited Teksavvy package!

    • Totally agree.  It just sucks for people, especially many of those up here in Northern Ontario, who don’t live in a metropolitan area like Sudbury, etc., who are forced to go with Bell, because they are the only provider possible.

  5. Bell and Rogers are considered world leaders in the delivery of internet service.
    Maybe now, they might try and catch countries like Latvia and Romania in internet speed.

  6. haha. man… i moved from calgary (born and raised in canada) to the United States years ago, and reading these sorts of things brings back all sorts of memories. Super anti competetive market in Canada. Things have not changed, and Canadian consumers are still being hurt.

  7. Just go with Teksavvy (If available in your area), they have multitudes of plans with bandwidth caps ranging from 300 Gigs to Unlimited and all for a really decent price, Teksavvy is one of the best ISP I have ever been with and I have used most of them in Ontario.  For just over 70$ a month I get my phone (With a couple of features), internet (Standard DSL 5 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, and 300 Gig cap) and Netflix, all I can say is screw Bell (Teksavvy use the Bell Network for their DSL service in my area).  They have been screwing their customers for long enough its time to give it to them dry in return.

  8. I use my unlimited Mobilicity data plan, my Android’s portable Wi-Fi hotspot and my laptop to bypass the big ISPs lousy internet plans. Admittedly I can only do 1.5-2 Megabits per second but my phone is 4G capable, so my internet speed will go up once Mobilicity builds up their network.

  9. I’m a Bell representative..what i could say that no one will make your internet slower because of netflix use..We have know Fibe To The Home fibre optic wires are fed directly into your home. It delivers the absolute fastest total Internet speeds on the market..which means that we garantuee your speed even it’s 5/1 15/15 or 175/175..This technologie is exclusive to Bell and no one of our competitor use it..They are all using Fibre To The Neighbourhood

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