Newspapers in Australia report that Telstra is making a bold move to ‘throttle’ or slow the speed at which its ADSL customers download content through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks in peak periods as part of a trial.

TM Forum members present at Management World in Dublin in 2011 and Singapore in 2012 will not be surprised at this news because it was an idea openly presented by board member, Michael Lawrey, who is also executive director at Telstra.

At the time, Lawrey’s comments were picked up by a number of publications, with a variety of interpretations. Light Reading quoted him saying “that (this) will allow us to differentiate on traffic, and to be able to manage differentiated services as close to actual customer as possible.” RCR Wireless News quoted Lawrey as saying that Telstra would soon take action against customers thought to be abusing the carrier’s fair use policies. IT News Australia said that “Lawrey made waves ….. when plans emerged to throttle or cut off ‘downloaders of illegal content,’ whom he reportedly blamed for network congestion.”

The Insider made note of one particular statement that made eminent sense. When referring to those exploiting the Telstra networks for illegal downloading of content and P2P activities Lawrey said,” “I’d love for them to go to the regulators” to complain.

The concept of ‘throttling’ P2P traffic has been around for a long time and Telstra is certainly not the only one looking at it as a means of controlling over-usage and abuse by a small number of users. Even though P2P networks are commonly used to download pirated material such as movies, music and video games this is not always the primary reason for controlling them.

At the time there were concerns that illegal and copyright infringement traffic over a CSP or ISP’s network could see them prosecuted. A landmark case by Hollywood studios against one ISP along these grounds was subsequently lost. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that content owners still hold some sway and may be continuing to put pressure on operators to curb illegal traffic to preserve both their revenue streams from legitimate content sales.

In a post on the Telstra News website, it was stated that “online piracy is an important policy issue and Telstra remains open to discussions with a range of stakeholders to identify workable solutions that protect the interests and privacy of our customers. However, this trial is solely about examining ways of improving our network management to ensure that all of our customers enjoy the best quality service for their specific needs at the best possible price.

As part of this project, Telstra is trialling network enhancements that allow the identification of specific types of traffic on our network. The technology being used looks at characteristics of the data packet to identify the type of the traffic present. Any inspection that takes place is used only to identify the signature of the traffic; it does not identify the content (e.g. whether this is a movie, the title or any other details).”

This was followed by the all-important disclaimer that, “This trial does not involve any monitoring or tracking of the sites visited by our customers, and the trial’s findings, including customer feedback, will be collected in accordance with our Privacy Statement.”

Of course, not all P2P traffic is of a dubious nature and critics were quick to jump in and criticize Telstra’s move. It won’t be long before the ‘net neutrality’ proponents also jump in with their two cents worth. However, the fact remains that network operators are having to manage their resources as fairly and evenly as possible to provide good service to ALL their customers. If this is threatened by a minority of abusers then any form of control or traffic shaping is surely their prerogative. No doubt, others will be watching and applauding from the sidelines as Telstra sets a precedent.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider