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Bell store at Rideau Centre in Ottawa Aug. 12, 2010.

Blair Gable/blair gable The Globe and Mail

After an intense controversy over usage-based billing earlier this year, BCE Inc. has decided to stop "throttling" Internet traffic on its networks.

In a joint letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, dated Monday, regulatory officials at Bell Canada and Bell Aliant indicate the companies will stop implementing the controversial traffic shaping practice in March.

In doing so, the companies partly credit their "extensive" network investments for discontinuing the practice. Throttling, known in industry parlance as technical Internet Traffic Management Practice (ITMP), generally targets peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing through sites such as BitTorrent by slowing down speeds of the heaviest users during peak traffic periods.

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A spokesman for BCE could not be reached for comment late Monday. A copy of the correspondence was sent to The Globe and Mail by OpenMedia.ca, a non-profit organization which has been a vocal opponent of throttling.

"With the increasing popularity of streamed video and other traffic, P2P file sharing, as a proportion of total traffic, has been diminishing. This is not to say that it no longer has an impact on network congestion," says the letter.

"Nevertheless, and in light of the extensive investments the Companies have made in additional network capacity, and given economic ITMPs in the marketplace, the Companies will withdraw the shaping of P2P traffic on the Companies' networks, with regards to both retail and wholesale traffic, effective 1 March 2012."

For its part, OpenMedia.ca immediately hailed the decision. The group has long argued that large Internet service providers, such as Bell, should not play the role of gatekeeper by deciding which types of Internet traffic are acceptable.

Spokeswoman Lindsey Pinto said the group was "very pleased" at the decision. "This is a step forward," she said in a telephone interview from Vancouver, noting it would serve as a good example to other large Internet service providers such as Rogers Communications Inc.

"It is also a warning sign to the CRTC, which hasn't been very strong in enforcing net neutrality," she added.

The companies' decision to stop throttling comes about a month after the CRTC handed down a compromise solution on the related issue of usage-based billing. In mid November, the Ottawa-based telecom regulator introduced a new pricing model that would see smaller Internet service providers, who lease space on the networks of larger providers like Bell, pay for the total capacity they need rather than the volume of data downloaded.

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BCE had originally wanted to charge those smaller ISPs by how much each customer downloads. It later approached the CRTC with a revised proposal to charge those smaller ISPs for the aggregate total of data used by all their customers.

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