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’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown

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