An article in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that Telstra plans to start a trial to shape Internet traffic during peak periods.
This has been interpreted as including the possibility of slowing down traffic from peer-to-peer services that are used for the most part to illegally download video and music. Of course, peer-to-peer or BitTorrent downloads are used for legitimate purposes and opponents to ISPs shaping Internet usage have been quick to point this out. There is also an assumption that power users, who are responsible for 80% of all broadband usage are also the ones using BitTorrent and that is not necessarily the case.
The problem for Telstra and other ISPs is that Internet traffic growth is outpacing the ability of networks to carry it. More importantly has been the thorny problem of how to guarantee fair access to traffic and preventing a small number of users from dominating bandwidth. This has been at the heart of the debate around network neutrality where supporters have argued that all traffic should be treated equally and Internet providers should be prevented from discriminating users by differential charging or filtering content.
Between 2011 and 2016, global Internet traffic is expected to increase 4 times with the increased use of video and file sharing being the main drivers of that increase. Countries like Australia are investing in infrastructure, as in the NBN, to support this increase in traffic but we still face the issue of limited resources being available from our increasing use of wireless networks.
The issue with Telstra’s plans are that people will simply switch from using BitTorrent to using direct downloads of content. As fast as Telstra tries to catch up with people’s usage of the networks, users will change faster to stay at least one step ahead.
The other thing to note is that ISPs are probably already shaping some BitTorrent traffic. A study by Measurement Lab showed that many ISPs are using a technique called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to throttle BitTorrent traffic. This includes Telstra, iiNet and other mainstream providers. Tools are available to check if your ISP is currently shaping traffic.
Despite the suggestion by the SMH that Telstra is going to clamp down on peer-to-peer users, few people, including the BitTorrenters will notice the difference. The Telstra trial will allow people to opt out and should the policy be introduced permanently, as mentioned before, there are a number of ways of getting around it.