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Network Neutrality: The First Word is In

November 22, 2008

Last Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled that Bell Canada was not engaging in a discriminatory activity by shaping the traffic of its wholesale clients. The CRTC found that because heavy-usage residential customers were also having bandwidth throttled, commercial customers could not be said to have been discriminated against. The Commission found that there was, as Bell claimed, network congestion due to P2P traffic, and that traffic shaping was appropriate in this case.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers(CAIP), a group of businesses that purchase bandwidth for their reselling enterprises, stipulated in their suit that Bell discriminated against them, primarily because their services successfully compete with those of their provider’s. The CAIP, who launched their suit last April,stipulate in their CRTC application, that they were only using a service that they had already paid for, and that therefore, Bell was not honouring their contracts.Bell argued that increased use of torrent clients was choking bandwidth so much that they had to shape traffic to be able to keep the lines open. This is debatable, as the telcos could easily alleviate the congestion by adding more bandwidth to deliver the service that their clients have already paid for.

The CRTC’s conclusion, that one group is not being singled out because the same treatment has been applied to another, is specious logic at best, and it dodges a larger issue; when governments take a laissez-faire approach to something as essential as network neutrality with medium as ubiquitous as the Internet, the result is that the arbitration of national communications policies will effectively default to large cable companies rather than legislators. Presently, there is no law preserving network neutrality in North America. Though it was not addressed in this first round, the CRTC did recognize that the issue needs to be revisited, and so there will be dedicated hearings in 2009. This is in itself welcome news, as network neutrality was a low-profile issue in Canada until recently, despite its importance.

Though Canadian telecommunications companies have impeded web traffic beforeThursday’s decision is the first blow to network neutrality that has the blessing of an official regulatory body. The Conservative government has been hesitant to comment on network neutrality, and appear to be opposed to federal regulation of the Internet. What is troubling, is that the public is left without a concrete measure constituting what an ISP can say is too much usage. For the time being, the practice of network throttling has been legally sanctioned.

At this point, Canada appears to be going in the opposite direction than the US; President-elect Barack Obama, is an advocate of legislating network neutrality, which has been called the “First Amendment of the Internet. It is easy to see why Obama backs network neutrality. His incredibly successful grassroots campaigns effectively utilized the innovative potential of the free net for awareness and fundraising. He recognized that the nature of the new media lends itself to a more direct and instant participation in democracy, an insight that mobilized voters in record numbers.

Network neutrality facilitates innovation and democratic representation in the media, and fosters healthy competition among Internet companies. These are important elements for Canada to retain if it would remain a leader in the communcations world.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2008 11:35 pm

    Thank you for this post. I have followed debates on net neutrality in the US since the implications of rulings by entities such as the FCC and the CRTC impact countries such as Sri Lanka and other repressive regimes, interested in monitoring content on the web. As I’ve noted here – http://ict4peace.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/net-neutrality-and-internet-qos-in-sri-lanka-redux/,

    “For me net neutrality is more than serious concerns about deep packet inspection. It is about the commitment to an open web, where regulation is more transparent and progressive than partisan, stentorian and limiting, where government promotes access to the web and Internet as a right of all citizens, where everyone is guaranteed a minimum QoS and where select content isn’t discriminated against.”

    I’ve gone on to note here – http://ict4peace.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/net-neutrality-economics-and-implications-for-ict4peace-and-odr/,

    “The point is quite simply this – net neutrality is not just about the minimum or maximum transmission rates, but about the way IP packets on a broadband pipe are managed. If ISPs, under their own misguided policies or those covertly imposed by a repressive regime begin to selectively prioritise and monitor traffic on their networks, it forces those who use the Internet for highly sensitive communications and advocacy to re-think the tools and services they access, and how. And sometimes, there’s no other option for tools used by HR defenders – as in the case of Skype. Despite recent concerns over privacy, there is no other encrypted, free and widely used VOIP tool. And once you start going down this path, it soon becomes clear that traffic discrimination can selectively target other tools, web services and platforms used by HR defenders against a regime to capture, generate, disseminate and archive inconvenient truths – such as human rights abuses. This includes video streaming sites like YouTube.”

    I hope Canadasworld is able to animate public representations at the upcoming CRTC hearings. This is important not just for Canadians, but for all of us.

    Best regards,

    Sanjana Hattotuwa

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  1. Net Neutrality Advocate Will Submit Petition For CRTC Review Tomorrow « Canada’s World

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