The CRTC has tried to address limited ISP competition by requiring companies such as Bell to provide access to third-party ISPs that "resell" Bell service with regulated wholesale prices that lead to a measure of increased competition. Indeed, there are apparently about 100 companies that currently resell Bell access services. Many have made substantial investments in their own networks and have loyal customer bases that number into the tens of thousands.
Those same companies have expressed concern to Bell about the possibility that it might institute throttling and thereby directly affect their services. Until yesterday, Bell had sought to reassure the companies that this was not their plan. For example, in response to a question about network speeds to resellers, it told the CRTC in 2003 that:
the throughput will be determined by the customer's user network interface (UNI) access circuit capacity rather than the Peak Information Rate (PIR) setting. Of course, Bell Canada reserves the right to implement a PIR rate in cases of troubleshooting or to protect the network infrastructure from congestion resulting from malfunctioning or mis-configured equipment or malicious hacking.
The new throttling system has nothing to do with troubleshooting, malfunctioning equipment, or malicious hacking, but rather involves speed limits for a particular class of traffic. Moreover, for months Bell has been installing "deep packet inspection" capabilities into its network. Sources advise that the company was regularly asked about its intentions and that it consistently assured ISPs that throttling would not apply to wholesale services. Now that the company has dropped that pretense, the business community is left to wonder whether it will soon target business VPN traffic or broadcasters like the CBC for their streamed traffic. This represents a fundamental reshaping of the Internet in Canada as we pay (literally) for the dire lack of competition and independent ISPs gear up for likely legal challenges. Regardless of those outcomes, it will become increasingly apparent that the regulators and politicians can no longer remain silent. Nor should Canadians.
CBC Radio's Spark, a great weekly program on culture and technology, is focusing next week on access issues including net neutrality and broader Internet access concerns. The program will include an interview with Bell Canada and they are encouraging listeners to post their questions here.
Two must-read articles on the CBC BitTorrent experiment - a CBC article on how ISP traffic shaping is limiting the ability of Canadians to reasonably download the episode and Guinevere Orvis posts the inside story on how CBC gave the go-ahead (hat tip - BoingBong).