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In February the telco notified customers that it would be undertaking what it described as “a limited trial of a range of technical solutions for better managing network performance”, with the aim of “maximising the customer experience”. The telco’s director of Consumer Wireline, John Chambers, published a post on the company’s Exchange blog at the time noting that the objective of the trial is to identify options and pricing plans for Telstra customers that would “improve overall customer experience”, to ensure the telco continued to offer “the best quality service at the best possible price”.“One of the variety of options being examined under this trial,” Chamber noted, “is the shaping of specific services (including some peer to peer (P2P) services) in certain circumstances, to determine what impact this has on total overall customer experience of time critical experiences for real time entertainment … The trial will be limited to a small number of ADSL customers in Victoria. All affected customers in the trial areas will be informed of the trial in advance and be given a choice of whether to participate in the trial.”However, Chambers’ blog post was met by several dozen responses by customers outraged by Telstra’s decision, and since that time, groups as diverse as the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and iiNet have severely criticised Telstra over the trial, which raises network neutrality issues similar to those which have been extensively discussed in other countries such as the US.In a follow-up blog post published today, Chambers noted that the trial would be going ahead in the imminent future. “As part of our ongoing work to test customer experience and preferences, this week we are calling a small number of Victorian Bigpond customers to invite them to participate in a Traffic Management Trial,” the executive wrote.“This latest trial is focused on how our customers respond when network management techniques are applied in order to manage congestion. Some trial participants will be asked to evaluate how speed differences on non-time sensitive applications, like Bit Torrent, impact their overall customer experience. Participants will be surveyed as to how short-term changes to the network impacted their experience.”“The trial is limited to Victoria and only a few hundred customers will be able to participate. More details on our general approach in this space are available on previous Telstra Exchange blogs. I would reconfirm that this trial does not involve looking at or recording the content of what customers chose to consume on the internet.”Chambers noted that he would like to thank all customers who choose to participate in any of our research.“Traffic on Telstra’s ADSL network has doubled on average every 12 months for the past four years. Your support has meant that we are in a better position to develop services, products, investment strategies and network management policies that help us meet this growth in demand and minimise the impact of internet congestion,” he wrote.Telstra’s plans have previously attracted the strong interest of regulators such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. In February, for instance, ACCC chairman Rod Sims told the Financial Review that he would look to investigate ISPs such as Telstra if they set up their networks to support their own content against other forms of content, such as video content downloaded through peer to peer platforms.
Yesterday, Six months after it first notified customers of its plans, the nation’s largest telco Telstra finally kicked off a limited and completely voluntary trial of advanced traffic management techniques on its network that will see peer to peer traffic through platforms such as BitTorrent throttled. Only a small number of Victorian customers will be involved on Telstra’s ADSL network.However, the Pirate Party said in a statement this afternoon that the trial raised concerns with regard to Internet traffic prioritisation. “Pirate Party Australia considers that ‘net neutrality’ — where types of traffic are not discriminate against — is essential for modern Australia. The Party’s policy pushes for a ban on screening and prioritising of traffic based on content, source or destination, with opt-in prioritisation if subscribers choose,” the party’s statement said. “Net neutrality is vital for a free Internet,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “Throttling certain services and promoting others will damage any new service or product coming online. Differentiated services is a slippery slope to a situation where companies could pay for their content to be prioritised. The next Google or Facebook, being a start-up would not have access to a comparable speed and would find it more difficult to compete with the more powerful incumbents purely because they could only afford access to the B-Grade Internet. For the Internet to remain a place of innovation any attempt to benefit some sections at the cost of others must be resisted.” “For example, Telstra owns the rights to stream NRL and AFL games. Being able to prioritise the streaming of their broadcasts would come at the cost of a poorer service for other types of content which would be de-prioritised. Old media and telecommunications companies are always looking for ways to regain control over the flow of information and this gives them a means to achieve it,” Frew continued. The Pirate Party pointed out that it had been suggested by other ISPs that Telstra was introducing the trial to avoid upgrading its ADSL network. Even if throttling subscribers’ connections may be a way to reduce network congestion without improving the quality of their services or infrastructure, the party claimed, “it is not a feasible long-term solution for growing needs”.