Telstra kicks off P2P throttling trial



news Six months after it notified customers of its plans, the nation’s largest telco Telstra has 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.

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.

My opinion on this issue is well-known, as I published a commentary piece on it back in January. As I wrote at the time (and nothing has changed, even though I am now a Telstra HFC cable customer), most ISPs already apply some form of traffic control to their networks:

“The difficulty with technology … is that even those systems which we perceive as pure, are actually anything but.

Network neutrality? Don’t make me laugh. Every time you download a packet over virtually any broadband service in Australia, your ISP prioritises it in some way, shape or form. iiNet openly admits its FetchTV service gets priority over everything else on its network (hell, it even requires you to use its own ADSL router to facilitate even greater control by the ISP), Telstra has done the same thing for years and years with its own IPTV services, and I’m 100 percent sure that others such as Optus, TPG and even that God’s Gift to Broadband, Internode, does precisely the same thing. All Telstra revealed last week was a trial that would take that already entrenched that environment just one step further. And it’s even voluntary.”

Image credit: Telstra


  1. Not sure what the point of this is from a consumer point of view. In my experience bittorrent isn’t time sensitive, that’s part of its attraction over streaming services. I can DL something over minutes, hours, days or weeks and then watch it at my leisure without buffering.
    A trial to increase the priority of streaming services would be interesting and would likely lead to a better experience. But this? I suppose the issue is that BT causes congestion and by throttling it you free up bandwidth for streaming services. Just seems like Telstra are getting ready to throttle torrents!

    • I actually find the exact opposite.

      When I want to download something; P2P is the fastest way, I find it is much more reliable way to max out my link to download that which I want immediately.

      Any time I have to download a large file (say; an image for a microsoft installation at work) from MSDN, I cry; because it often doesn’t use p2p and some of the msdn files have an absolutely abysmal download rate. (often times resorting to a torrent version of the same file downloads it 2 orders of magnitude faster).

      The downloads aren’t latency sensitive but they are still time critical. In that, I don’t want to wait longer to download the file. I bought my internet access, I bought my quota, I’d like to use it when I want to use it, not when Telstra think I want to use it.

  2. Presumably, the cost of the slower P2P service would be much less. I hope they have the technology to lower the cost of P2P downloads selectively.
    Personally, I use P2P for downloading software – especially Linux distros, because it’s often faster, more reliable and reduces the load on servers and mirrors, so Telstra wouldn’t be much use to me, if they went ahead.

  3. This simply lets ISPs segregate their customer base. The end-game is to charge customers as much as they will bear. Eg. we already have usage caps plus speed caps, and now they are proposing a network service-level cap.

    Imagine: use the ISPs own competitive services and be rewarded with a great experience, or pay more to keep getting the good stuff from elsewhere. Either way it’s a win-win for ISPs with no real benefits to consumers, as I imagine no sane ISP would reduce prices on their offerings to account for the loss of functionality (eg. due to throttled P2P).

    • What will happen in practice:

      They’ll use it to reduce costs and not pass on anything.


      They’ll use it to force customers onto higher prices while not reducing prices for existing customers.

      • At which point there is an opening for any other ISP to gain a competitive advantage and boost their market share and revenue by reducing the rents they obtain by lowering their pricing for services that are subject to throttling. Vodafone has adopted a similar approach in the international roaming space; TPG and others offer cut-price unlimited broadband plans. Markets aren’t perfect, but there are some pretty clear incentives at work here.

        • Unfortunately not everyone has this option, I have investigated my situation and I can’t actually go to any other ISP thanks to my location. So I’m stuck with bigpond and have to grin and bear this garbage. Especially now that the nbn is effectively being scrapped.

          • If you have Bigpond (ADSL) then you should be able to go to other ISPs that use Telstras infrastructure. Internodes Easy Reach plans are an example.

  4. My concern isn’t with Bigpond doing this – if you choose to be a Bigpond customer you get what you deserve. My concern is the possible ramifications for retail ISP’s and thus all Internet users on a Telstra wholesale network.

  5. I use BitTorrent Sync to backup my entire computer to a ‘server’ at my mum’s house. It’s like having my own private Dropbox for the price of a Raspberry Pi and an external USB harddisk. Best inventions ever. I believe BT Sync uses a modified P2P torrenting protocol. So now my online backups will be throttled because Telstra wants me to buy their streaming TV content? Nice break of logic. Not everyone who uses torrents is stealing Game of Thrones. Why don’t they tackle the real issue directly? Or maybe I’m one of the few people using 100 gigs a month of torrenting for legal and non-commercial purposes… If they start throttling my torrenting I’ll have to start pirating movies to justify their actions.

  6. BT used to do this in the UK to a ridiculous extent – P2P traffic was capped at about 2.5KB/sec, even on VDSL2. Then Sky came along with the same service and no p2p throttling, and BT changed their mind.

    I’m of the opinion that if you’re paying for a certain amount of traffic per month, then there should be no traffic management whatsoever – because it’s not up to your ISP to decide what is important. I think the conclusion reached at the end of this article is shortsighted.

  7. Remember people that lots of Telstra ADSL and cable gear is congested. Backhaul and international is not a problem for them because they own it outright. The only cost they could reduce is the replacement cost of gear that will soon be replaced by the NBN.

    • You are wrong on several points.
      ADSL2 is point to point. Only the back-haul can be congested in an ADSL network. (specifically the back-haul from the DSLAM to the rest of the Telstra network).

      You are right that Cable is a shared medium and thus; may be (and is depending on area) congested independent of the back-haul.

      However your final point; that the equipment will be replaced by the NBN is now wrong. The only components being “replaced” by the NBN are the ADSL components. The HFC network is being left intact by the Liberals, so that it may form (the only?) infrastructure competition with the NBN.

      The NBN isn’t going to solve this problem (if as you claim, the backhaul is fine).

  8. I don’t get it, they are expecting people to volunteer for this?? Roll on the NBN (either one).

    • Have you considered the NBN may well end up being given to Telstra to implement and run, just another Telstra wholesale in which case it is extremely relevant.
      A means of limiting competition to the Media Partnership with News Ltd and ensuring a replacement rivers of gold for them both

      • Yes, which is why either NBN would be better than being stuck with Telstra like I am now….

  9. Telstra are increasingly a bad joke. “Network management techniques” is only a euphemism for not investing in their network to deliver the product they are charging people for. It’s NONE of the ISP’s business what sort of data their customers use.

    • Renai is right, “Network management techniques” are used all the time to make sure traffic keeps flowing.

      The difference between those “techniques” and this though, is that throttling P2P traffic is it’s more about economics (Telstra not wanting to spend on upgrading it’s back haul/network design) than a desire to manage network traffic from a congestion perspective.

      I think most people would prefer to see Telstra (and others) make their “bulk” plans more expensive and use that extra cash flow to upgrade their network.

  10. Skype is a p2p app. Telstra actively control the QoS of the Skype sessions once their devices work out the port numbers. Skype is a direct threat to it’s voice and conference services. Telstra will continue to do it, turning up the knob to squeeze it out. This is a universal carriage issue and Telstra are more than happy to move away from that obligation to save network and peering costs. NBNco and RSP’s can battle for that space.

  11. What will happen in practice:

    They’ll use it to reduce costs and not pass on anything.
    They’ll use it to force customers onto higher prices while not reducing prices for existing customers

  12. Do go with them.

    They don’t care about their customers.

    Im one of them and their throttling my P2P right now. It goes up to 650kbps then drops down to 30kbps “repeats” making the signal look like its spiking, it’s also making my browsing really slow where i use to cap my P2P speed to 700kbps and still have fast browsing speed.

    Im changing my provider tomorrow and so are some of my friends.

    There are a lot of people leaving hence why they are doing special deals at the moment with their customers “$20 of each monthly bill” to try to stop their customers from leaving but still not enough to keep me with them.

    Two words

    Ass Clowns

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