CRTC hearing addresses Internet traffic

Michael Jackson's death puts spotlight on net congestion

TORONTO -- How can the flow of Internet traffic be managed when events like Michael Jackson's death overload social networking sites with a media frenzy?

That question came up Monday as Canada's TV watchdog opened a public hearing into how to manage or shape web traffic for Internet users.

Konrad von Finckenstein, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, questioned whether wholesale traffic shaping online can be avoided when unforeseen events like Michael Jackson's death spark a crippling surge in Internet traffic.

Dave Caputo, president and CEO of Sandvine, which makes broadband networking software and equipment, told the regulator that "world events," like a celebrity singer dying, produced peak loads for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that can't be predicted.

"With Michael Jackson, you had thousands of people outside his hospital in Los Angeles with cell phones, and that led to a peak load of wireless phone traffic," Caputo said, with rippling effects in traditional media and social networking sites.

The discussion around Michael Jackson points up a dilemma facing the CRTC: allow domestic cable and phone giants to continue to shape internet traffic to ease or eliminate online congestion, or go with proponents of net neutrality and maintain a free flow of content online.

The CRTC's von Finckenstein said the CRTC was exploring whether technology existed to enable Internet users to be charged for excessive uploading or downloading, which would remove the need for wholesale traffic shaping.

"It sounds like a perfectly sensible way to do it: let the people who want to use (the Internet) pay for it, and be discouraged form using excessive loads because of the overload." he said.

The CRTC hearings follow a November 2008 decision to allow phone giant Bell Canada to continue to "throttle" traffic by serial peer-to-peer file sharers because their applications slowed down overall speeds for most Internet users.

This week's hearings were called to consider the broader issue of Internet traffic management by ISPs, with its impact on millions of Canadian media consumers.
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