Australia's leading broadband providers Telstra, Optus and iiNet all deny limiting P2P traffic within their networks in order to increase network speeds and save costs. This comes despite a recent admission from Westnet, along with several other ISPs, that it has been using traffic controls to limit P2P traffic for the past year and will continue to do so.
"Customers buy a speed and download quota from us. We don't examine what they do with it," said iiNet managing director, Michael Malone.
Telstra's BigPond spokesperson, Craig Middleton, said it does not limit P2P traffic and nor did it have plans to in the future.
"We have no policies [on P2P file sharing], but as a content provider (BigPond Movies, Games, Sport and Music) we support the legal purchase of content, not piracy," he said.
Optus was less conclusive.
"Optus uses various tools to manage its network and bandwidth to maximise the performance of its customers' connections," a company spokesperson said. "Optus continues to review and revise its strategies as usage trends change and technical options evolve. Optus does have the capability to prioritise data traffic and may use this capability in the future."
An increasing number of smaller ISPs such as Westnet and Exetel have recently admitted to limiting P2P traffic - the most notable being BitTorrent files. The topic has garnered much debate on broadband discussion forum Whirlpool in the past month.
"The key purpose of the traffic prioritisation tools is to ensure latency sensitive applications, such as online gaming, web browsing, e-mail and VOIP, are not negatively impacted by peer to peer applications," said a posting this week on the Westnet blog.
"An important point to note is that Westnet has not enforced a fixed limit on the amount of bandwidth available to peer to peer applications. The amount of bandwidth available to peer to peer traffic is dynamically limited only when the bandwidth required to service the other applications exceeds expectations," it goes on to say.
"Traffic is the only cost that an ISP has to deal with, explained iiNet's Malone. "If customers download lots, then it costs us more money. Customer usage is going up steadily, but the cost of bandwidth is not going down. The combined result is that traffic costs are increasing at a pretty steady rate" he said. "The issue is just cost management."
However, Malone did not believe that throttling P2P traffic has anything to do with perceived legality issues.
"Australian ISPs are protected from liability as common carriers by the safe harbor provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act. I'm not hearing any ISPs saying that the driver is concern about liability. The rules in Australia are very clear. So that's not it."
The possible limitation of P2P traffic comes on top of download quotas set by Australian ISPs, which may irk many ISP customers. "All ISPs in Australia do limit users who download too much (BigPond is the only ISP in Australia that double dips by hitting uploads as well). We all have some sort of 'download quota' for a fixed price per month", said Malone.
"The problem is the average utilisation. ISPs work out their plans by making an assumption about what percentage of the quotas will get used, on average across the base. In the past, if customers had a 10GB quota for instance, then they didn't use all of it, they might have used (say) 30%. Today that number could be close to 90% on average, but there is no additional revenue. The assumptions have just changed, which has increased costs, but not revenue", he said.
Telstra, Optus and iiNet deny that the problems associated with P2P use on their networks have occurred as a result of over-subscribed bandwidth.
"If ISPs had 'over-subscribed' then customers would be getting congestion on everything. That's not happening at all with any of the ISPs who are de-prioritising P2P", said Malone. "More bandwidth costs more money. So ISPs don't buy any more than they need. If you can reduce the amount of bandwidth, then your costs are less and your prices can be more competitive."
Malone added that he considers the issues of P2P traffic are associated with philosophic argument, rather than reality. "The heavy users of P2P are outraged that their (non time critical) data is treated as lower priority than your web browsing or video conference. And realistically, 97% of your customer base don't even notice. Everyone is happy (except the leechers, who were too happy anyway, at the expense of the ISP)", he said.
"This is a storm in a teacup," he said.