Business-like, isn't he?



Columbia Journal

    CRTC debates whether Internet should offer a level playing field

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Columbia Journal May 2009

    The CRTC- Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has been holding hearings this spring about the state of new media in Canada. Among the issues under consideration: should there be Canadian content requirements for Canadian-based 'new media' and whether Canadian ISPs- Internet service providers- should be required to maintain 'net neutrality', treating equally all the data flowing to their customers.

    Since 1999, the CRCT has been had a hands-off attitude towards the Internet and new media; according to the telecom companies and broadcasters, that's allowed the industry to flourish. Creator groups including ACTRA, SOCAN, and the Writers Guild of Canada, however, believe that new regulations are required to promote increased access online to Canadian content. SOCAN, for instance, is calling for requirements of at least 51% Canadian content on Canadian-based commercial websites, while ACTRA is suggesting that Canadian sources making Internet or mobile receiving content should be licensed as broadcasters. Some groups are proposing a tax on ISPs to fund Canadian content- ACTRA, for example, suggests figures of 3% of ISP revenues and 0.6% of wireless service revenues.

    Net neutrality is also being debated; the big network providers- cable and telecom companies have begun using 'deep packet inspection' technologies to categorize the data users are sending and receiving, and treating bits of data differently depending on their content. This has allowed many of these large ISPs to be 'traffic shaping'- slowing down or throttling their customers' access to peer-to-peer file-sharing.

    The ISPs maintain that file-sharers tie up more than their fair share of network bandwidth, reducing network performance for other users. This is especially a potential problem for cable Internet customers- in that technology, a group of neighbours share a network node- heavy online use by one customer impacts nearby users. Supporters of traffic shaping note that the companies are not banning file-sharing- though the Canadian Independent Record Production Association suggested such a ban might be a good thing- they are just ensuring that downloading and uploading files takes longer, freeing up bandwidth for other uses.

    Quebec ISP Videotron took traffic shaping further, telling the CRTC that controlling access "peut être bénéfique non seulement pour les utilisateurs de services Internet mais pour la société en général"- ie. could be beneficial to both the users of these services and for society in general- and suggested that traffic shaping could allow them to control viruses, spam, child pornography and more.

    Net neutrality supporters, however, fear that the ISPs will not stop there- that the telecoms, in the business of selling phone services- unless regulated to maintain a level playing field- may start to limit Internet-based phone services such as Skype, while cable companies might limit access to online video services such as YouTube.

    As well, the telcos and cable companies have expressed interest in providing higher speed service to media and other companies willing to pay for the privilege- raising the spectre of a two-tiered Internet: fast access to content hosted by big media companies, slow access to anyone else.

    Back in 2006, Shaw Cable, for instance, offered Shaw customers also trying to use Vonage's Internet phone service a 'quality of service enhancement': an additional $10 monthly fee to guarantee the quality of service needed for 'voice over Internet' (VoIP) services. Vonage complained, calling this “a thinly-veiled VoIP tax”. Shaw offers its own VoIP service, which competed with Vonage.

    Last Fall, Bell Canada limited the ability of its customers to download the popular CBC TV show “Canada's Next Great Prime Minister”. In the past, customers unhappy with Bell's policies could switch to independent ISPs renting access to Bell's DSL network- now Bell has begun imposing its traffic-shaping on those companies as well.

    The Canadian Association of Internet Providers requested that the CRTC order Bell to stop throttling its competitors in this way, but last November 20th, the CRTC ruled in Bell's favour, removing customers' ability to move to a non-throttled DSL competitor.

    In the US, both the Obama administration and their regulatory agency, the FCC, have been supportive of net neutrality; Congress is examining legislation aiming to enshrine these principles in law. Locally, the BC government's Network BC, in a submission to the CRTC hearings noted: “Net neutrality should be accepted as the bedrock upon which the Internet rests.... Aggressive traffic shaping as a net management practice... is antithetical to the policy objectives outlines in section 7(a)(b)(g)(f) and (h) of the Telecommunications Act.”

    Much of the information provided by the big cable and telecom companies to the CRTC was considered confidential- information about bandwidth limits and the extent of throttling, for instance, was only made available to CRTC staff and not the general public.

    To encourage public input on this issue, the CRTC set up an online forum ( where members of the general public could post comments on these issues until the end of April. Over 11,000 comments have been submitted- most opposed to network throttling. A public hearing on net neutrality is scheduled for Gatineau, Quebec on July 6th, with a CRTC ruling expected after that.

    More at - “a coalition of citizens, businesses and public interest groups wanting Ottawa to stop the Telcos from violating the principle of an open, neutral internet”.


Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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