debates whether Internet should offer a level playing field
Alan Zisman (c)
2009 First published in Columbia
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
More at http://saveournet.ca
- “a coalition of citizens, businesses and public interest groups
wanting Ottawa to stop the Telcos from violating the principle of an
open, neutral internet”.