Traffic Shaping: Fact vs. Fiction

Traffic Lately there has been a lot of press about ‘traffic shaping’ – the technique that some ISPs have employed to manage the flow of information across their networks. But what exactly is it, and how does it affect you?

By now you’ve probably read several articles about traffic shaping and/or bandwidth throttling. Some have said that the practice threatens the principles of Net Neutrality, and that it may even constitute an invasion of privacy.

If you’re wondering what all this means, or you’re beginning to worry that you need to be looking over your shoulder while you surf, you’re not alone.

With the exception of a recent Q&A published by the CBC, Canadian ISP’s have remained relatively quiet on this issue, preferring not to discuss the issue publicly. This has lead to further doubt, confusion and frankly, frustration on the part of customers and others.

Since we here at Sync have the unusual benefit of being part of the same company that runs Bell’s ISP (Sympatico), we felt we should do our part to shed some light on exactly what traffic shaping, bandwidth throttling and deep packet inspection (DPI) is all about and how it does or does not affect users of Sympatico’s service, specifically.

Over the next few days, we’ll be posting a quick "101" style article that will review the terminology, technology and jargon associated with home internet connections.

Shortly after that, we’re going to shoot a video interview with some of the folks at Bell who are directly responsible for managing the network that all ISP subscribers use. We have a lot of questions that we’re going to try to answer, but we’d also like to open the floor to you: what questions do you have regarding traffic shaping, throttling, net neutrality or privacy? What would you like to ask Bell about its practices?

Send us your questions via e-mail. We’ll try to include as many as possible in our interview.

To get notified as soon as we post the follow-up items on this topic, subscribe to this blog via RSS (see the link below), or bookmark this page which we will update with links to the new posts.



  1. Skeptical

    I don't pay Bell to do anything more or less than carry the traffic I generate as efficiently as possible – that means NO throttling, NO inspection, NO archiving, NO Censoring.

    As a carrier, I pay for capacity and transportation – no more and no less. If Bell doesn;t have enough backbone because they have statically alocated their andwidth, then their obligation is to build adequate capacity to provide each and every subscriber with the volume and speed that Bell has agreed to.

    Hiding beind the concept that 'extra traffic is clogging the network' is indicative of the fact that the network 'pipe' is too small for the grades of service that Bell (or whomever is carrying the data) is generating.

    Since I (for example) have a 5 megabit connection, no blocked ports and no caps on my traffic — if I choose to generate as much traffic as the channel will bear (which would amount to 1,339 gigabytes over a 31 day month) then it is their obligation to build a network to carry it.

    Hiding behind the argument that 'others will suffer' if they don;t simply points out that they have underbuilt the backhauls and that the small percentage of 'abusers' are bringing down the system – if we all streamed the Victoria's Secret fashion show it would similarly collapse.

    The problem is theirs – don't take it out on the consumer


  2. Marc Saltzman

    Let's hear from you gang! This is a rare opportunity to ask questions drectly to those who manage the Sympatico network…and hear what the deal is, right from the horse's mouth, so to speak…


    Marc Saltzman


  3. Warp

    Look Marc,

    No offense, but I agree 100% with Skeptical. I am paying access to the fast lane. How would drivers react if after paying for access to Highway 407 in Ontario they find speed bumps placed every kilometer.

    I have had my account with Sympatico almost 10 years most of it HighSpeed. Having said that I have never been a heavy user until the past year taking more and more advantage of what web 2.0 has to offer. What have they been doing with the hard earn cash that I have been funnelling to them for the better part of the decade? Adding capacity? Making sure that their network can more easily handle the demands and tastes of their customers?Obviously not!

    Once the dust settles on this issue and if Bell does not make some important changes in its business model. (Admittedly this goes beyond traffic shaping for me…) I will be changing providers. I would have done so earlier if it wasn't for the inconvience of changing my email address.

    Given your intro (ooooh access to the powers that be) I'm not sure that your piece will be anything more than window dressing, giving Bell a platform to spin how they plan to offer us less service for more money.

    Sorry dude.


  4. Garry

    This makes me absolutely sick. I pay top dollar for my high speed internet from bell. I bought the best service for two reasons: to play xbox live and to legally download movies and music as granted under Canadian law. Every day I get throttled. My torrents can run up to 630kbs down, 80kbs up when not being throttled. But everyday, for at least 12 hours a day I can't go past 30kbs down 20kbs up. I called to confront them…THEY DENIED IT!!!THEY TREATED ME LIKE I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT. They said that I'm not getting throttled, I'm just a victim of inadequate capacity on their servers. I told them its bull, I can run a speed test and get my 5mb down, 1 mb up. Its only my p2p applications that slows down to a halt. They denied this too. Saying that if I was being throttled, my speed test would read much lower levels as well. They were essentially lying to me right to my face. Now I pay close to $1200 for my internet and phone every year. As it stands right now, I'm looking for an alternate provider. Acanac for example says they don't do any traffic shaping, and they only cost a fraction of the price. Bell better be careful, people are waking up. We know we have options. I know I can get phone, internet, and cable too for what I'm paying for some mediocre, sub par, service from Bell.


  5. George

    I run a speed test everyday and I know Sympatico is messing with bandwidth. One fourth of my download speed disappears (from 6 down to 4.5 meg) at various times at Sympatico's whim. Explanations (denials???) are like the lies we get from oil companies when they claim there is no price fixing.


  6. Tre

    Bell & Rogers are both conning us……the clause of 'UP TO SPEEDS OF blah blah' means just that…UP TO but you NEVER EVER see those speeds b/c it is a simply a marketing strategy….they never said you WILL get speeds like that…just the possibility of getting those speeds….and those possbilities? slim to none in my 10 years with rogers/bell and only getting worst >:-(


  7. Tre

    oh and one more thing I have lived in Canada for the past 15 years and now I'm working for a French company in Asia (Hong Kong) and we get great speeds (~630kbs download) for 1/3 the price we used to pay back in Toronto……it is true….more $$ doesn't mean better service…at least not from Bell/Rogers….


  8. Dede

    Rogers is guilty of traffic shaping. It would be really nice to have deregulated cable providers in Canada.


  9. Nathan Hale

    Would Canada not be better served if a new Internet was built? A new transcanada highway but in the electronic realm, all entirely public owned, a set fee made based on income and made available to all. How would the Roger's and the Bell corporation respond? Would they up their game, improve services and features? Or throw every scare tactic to stop the competition to protect the duopoly?
    When it comes to throating check out some of the articles about Canada on Cnet.


  10. Emerald

    If you want to know the truth about throttling(traffic shaping) You can find out lots of info there. But dont for a second believe that bell is doing this for their customers. They are doing it to pad their bottom line.. and thats it. They are under 50% capacity, and are not clogged as they claim. Bell doesnt care about their customers, hasnt for years.


  11. Sacha

    I would like to know WHY Bell Sympatico dial up connection is SO SLOW and UNRELIABLE ??????
    Very often, there is nothing coming IN or going OUT…not to mention all the occasions that they simply CUT US OFF !!!!????????? WHY ??????????It is getting so bad that I will change ISP server very soon, and I know for a fact that I am not the only one doing so.


  12. Duo Maxwell

    I totally agree with both Garry and Tre. I too have noticed considerable downgrading of my speeds at certain times of the day, not to mention a complete lack of service at around 1am EST for about 15 minutes everyday. I don't download things very much, but what I do use my internet for is playing MMO's (which are throttled because most use the same ports as p2p programs and DPI can't tell the difference between the two). I certainly see a large amount of lag during 'peak' usage times of the day for reasons 'unbeknownst' to customer service that they blame on the game providers lack of server support. I'm sorry, but if a game company that is supported by EA (one of the biggest game publishers in the world); a game company that runs multiple MMO's all at once; and a game company that uses a single server world for their entire game population, don't have the proper equipment to run the game that they publish, then they wouldn't be making them. Bell (and Roger's, but I wont get into my beef with them here) don't smarten up, people will switch to other companies and Canada will lose yet another icon of our heritage because of a lack on insight, respect for their loyal customers and a pocket lining approach to keeping up with demand and technologies. Shame on the corporate big wigs who can't see out of their penthouse office's door to see the big picture in a world full of big money corruption (ie. gas companies that can set their commodities price at any price they choose because they have a monopoly in their market, no matter how much they deny it) and corporate inaccountability. These people are what's wrong with the world today, and I can tell you that people 30 years ago wouldn't have stood for this and the people who fought (and the many that died, God rest their souls) for our freedoms less than a century ago at the beginning of this industrial and technological era would be outraged at what has become of the world they sought to protect. Let us learn the lessons of the past and take up arms against our modern day tyrants and procure the justice that we so readily deserve. The power is in the people's hands, and they need to be reminded of that.


  13. Paul

    After reading reports from quite a few web sites about this issue I found that studies show that the p2p is not the big bad wolf that bell and the other big isp's make it out to be. The biggest bandwidth hog is streaming video, youtube, metacafe and the like. After reading this I did some tests of my own and found that watching videos for an hour or two consumed much more bandwidth than my downloads and of course much faster since they are not killing the pipe for video sites. That would have Google and Yahoo down their throats with lawsuits in a second. Watch how fast they would back down then if they were interfering in the big guys revenue stream.

    And don't just blame Bell, Cogeco is just as bad. I have 10meg service with 60gig per month cap. It should be my business how I use it. If I want to download at 10meg flat out until I use up my 60gig for the month that is my business.


  14. Reasonable Rick


    1. Is it Bell deciding how much bandwidth I get or is it dictated by another source (such as the CRTC)?

    2. Is Rogers and others also practicing this?

    3. If I don't get the bandwidth I was enjoying before, will my monthly rate fluctuate (read: go down) accordingly?

    4. Am I still allowed to download files from Torrent websites?



  15. Tomcat

    Bell has sold more BW than they are capable of supplying, that is the only reason they need to throttle our up/downloads.
    If I sold you a car and only delivered the wheels I'd be guilty of fraud, unless I was a major corp.


  16. Heather

    Here's the scenario. 3 people in 3 different provinces and 3 different service providers, all with high speed internet. A special 10 week web event was being held. 2 of the people not with sympatico are getting 584kbps to view this event. I was getting 33kbps every single week. Is this not traffic shaping or is something else going on here? Who can watch anything with that ancient speed? Can't see the broadcast very well and as for listening forget it. Choppy all the way through.


  17. NetKaster also

    Netkaster also throttles a person….I think its time for a better internet. I pay for download speeds that Ive only ever seen 1/10th of maby later on a good night. Always throttled through the peak times and always throttled back after 1hour of download.
    A new internet should be demanded by consumers.


  18. Sid

    What about shaw cable, I get my internet through them and pay an extra fee to get extreme service, does this really make a difference?

    How do I know if im being jacked? Why are these companies always disregarding the consumer?


  19. Doug Miller

    How much bandwidth is there available, and what effect does visual media (photos, movie clips) have on the overall bandwidth? How does my geographical location and area usage affect my cable service?


  20. rvm

    I too am fed up with big corp's' attitudes to the consumer and their general greed. I came up for renewal with Bell and did not have the option to renew my existing package. If I wanted same speed, "up to" that is, I would have to pay more. Mind you the "more" also contained their own unknown virus scanner and other useless things I do not want or need. I use a virus package subscribed directly from the USA and it has always been less than the same service proffered by either Sympatico or Rogers (including exchange rate over the years). Shame to Bell for forcing product packages to boost bottom line in the name of "improved service" to customers.
    Bell's marriage to MSN and Roger's to Yahoo also turned my stomach as both ended up in problems with proprietory issues. Give me the Mozilla group for life! Add what "you" want to your tool-bars or for functionality.
    I look forward to future articles on this, but will not sub to RSS to do so.


  21. Get-A-Clue

    Really… get-a-clue… nice article that totally skirts the fact that sympatico is charging customers for one thing and giving them another. Note to sympatico… there is not justification for this… none… in fact it can be called bait and switch…


  22. Matt Cooper

    What I'd really like to know is why does bell feel that they can use traffic shaping on consumers who are paying full price for their full speed of service.

    Why do Canadians have to get screwed when other countries (Including the United States) have CHEAPER, and FASTER internet connections, while we're stuck with two big companies that don't really offer anything.

    We have to sit there and take it because we don't get a choice.

    *uck the CRTC, *uck Rogers and *uck bell.


  23. RayB

    I understand traffic shaping as being a tool to increase throughput. It's a tool or process used in all multitasking computers to grant / revoke priority so all users may complete their jobs in a reasonable amount of time.

    My interest is in who or which class of users get priority, how those classes are determined, and if there are any rules to protect from abuse.


  24. hypocrisy?

    1) How does Bell state traffic shaping/throttling is necessary due to relieve congestion, yet open up a ONLINE VIDEO STORE ( you can download massive movie files?

    2) If their network is so congested that requires such traffic shaping/throttling, where is their proof?

    3) If their network is so congested why did they start throttling only their customers and leave 3rd party ISP companies alone. Only to throttling them many months later. Was it because many of their own customers were leaving for their competition?


  25. Chris

    Sympatico (and Rogers) should really take a close look at the feedback here so far. Do you see anyone defending their ISP ?? Absolutely not, and for good reason – the people aren't happy. The big players will not do the right thing by their customers unless they are forced to. I am feeling totally ripped off because I am paying for a service that has been downgraded after I made the initial agreement. This is a breach of contract. I imagine Bell has slipped in some fine print in that agreement that allows them to do this, but they are not honouring the intent of the service agreement. If any lawyers out there want to bring a class action against Bell, sign me up!
    My connection is so slow at times it's like being on dial up back in the late 90's – even loading a webpage or surfing has become abysmal.
    I will watch this series of articles with great interest. If other ripped-off customers out there know of good alternate ISP's let's hear about them…


  26. Chris

    Why is it that if we are going on certain websites or download sites that Bell and other ISP's feel the need to slow down our service and speed. Are we not paying the same monthly fees as everyone else using this ISP. The difference is that regular people use the internet for business, etc. Students and the GEN-X use the internet more for downloading and uploading and Bell and other ISP's are trying to cater to the business clientel, rather that the youth which really is the future of their business.

    I have friends that do not even watch television anymore they just download the episode they want from the internet, commercial free. Hey isn't Bell and Rogers, Media service providers as well? This is why they have started to slow down the downloads because they want to insure those advertising dollars to those channels they carry and they would rather you pay-per-view a movie rather than download it. Quite frankly even if you Pay-per-view a movie once you can still record it on a DVD Recorder and watch it again later or lend it to a friend.

    They have to wise up and so does Hollywood. In the next 10 to 20 years, everyone will be downloading TV shows, movies, etc. The way to advertise products is by placing them in the movies, shows, etc. like BMW and Shmirnoff Vodka did with James Bond.

    If ISP's keep trying to slow down downloads, all they are going to is p_ss-off their clients and new ISP's will enter the market and allow regular download speeds, which will cause them to lose market-share and profits. From a service stand point, Bell and these other ISP's have a lot to still learn.