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CBC Covers Net Neutrality Developments

CBC.ca continues its great coverage of the net neutrality issue with stories on the open letter by Charlie Angus and the Vuze report on Cogeco.

CBC Spark's Bell Interview

An uncut version of Nora Young's interview with Mirko Bibic of Bell has been posted online.

CBC's Spark Crowdsources Interview with Bell

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.

CBC on Traffic Shaping

CBC's The National covered the traffic shaping issue this week, focusing on Bell's throttling practices.

CBC on Traffic Shaping

CBC's The National covered the traffic shaping issue this week, focusing on Bell's throttling practices.

Wednesday March 26, 2008
The Bell Wake-Up Call
For months, I've been asked repeatedly why net neutrality has not taken off as a Canadian political and regulatory issue.  While there has been some press coverage, several high-profile incidents, and a few instances of political or regulatory discussion (including the recent House of Commons Committee report on the CBC), the issue has not generated as much attention in Canada as it has in the United States.  I believe this week will ultimately be seen as the moment that changed.  Starting with Rogers new pricing schedule without much needed transparency on its traffic shaping practices, followed by the CBC's BitTorrent distribution of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister, and now the revelation that Bell has quietly revamped its network to allow for throttling at the residential and wholesale level, there is the prospect of a perfect storm of events that may crystallize the issue for consumers, businesses, politicians, and regulators. The reported impact of traffic shaping on CBC downloads highlights the danger that non-transparent network management practices pose to the CBC's fulfillment of its statutory mandate to distribute content in the most efficient manner possible. This should ultimately bring cultural groups like Friends of the CBC into the net neutrality mix. Moreover, it points to a significant competition concern.  As cable and satellite companies seek to sell new video services to consumers, they simultaneously use their network provider position to lessen competition that seeks to deliver competing video via the Internet.  This is an obvious conflict that requires real action from Canada's competition and broadcast regulators. The Bell throttling practices also raise crucial competition issues.

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.

bell throttling

For months, I've been asked repeatedly why net neutrality has not taken off as a Canadian political and regulatory issue.  While there has been some press coverage, several high-profile incidents, and a few instances of political or regulatory discussion (including the recent House of Commons Committee report on the CBC), the issue has not generated as much attention in Canada as it has in the United States.  I believe this week will ultimately be seen as the moment that changed.  Starting with Rogers new pricing schedule without much needed transparency on its traffic shaping practices, followed by the CBC's BitTorrent distribution of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister, and now the revelation that Bell has quietly revamped its network to allow for throttling at the residential and wholesale level, there is the prospect of a perfect storm of events that may crystallize the issue for consumers, businesses, politicians, and regulators.

The reported impact of traffic shaping on CBC downloads highlights the danger that non-transparent network management practices pose to the CBC's fulfillment of its statutory mandate to distribute content in the most efficient manner possible. This should ultimately bring cultural groups like Friends of the CBC into the net neutrality mix. Moreover, it points to a significant competition concern.  As cable and satellite companies seek to sell new video services to consumers, they simultaneously use their network provider position to lessen competition that seeks to deliver competing video via the Internet.  This is an obvious conflict that requires real action from Canada's competition and broadcast regulators.

The Bell throttling practices also raise crucial competition issues.

Behind the Scenes of the CBC BitTorrent Experiment

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).

Monday March 24, 2008
The CBC's Next Great Way To Distribute Content
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses again on the CBC's decision to distribute the finale of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister without DRM on BitTorrent. The use of BitTorrent may come as a surprise to those who mistakenly equate file sharing solely with infringing activities.  BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer technologies are finding increasing favour with legitimate businesses attracted to its ability to distribute content in an efficient, cost-effective fashion.

Indeed, the CBC's model comes from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, which last month used BitTorrent to distribute "Nordkalotten 365," one of the country's most popular programs.  The experiment proved very successful, with tens of thousands of downloads at virtually no cost to the broadcaster.  Moreover, the European Union recently joined forces with leading broadcasters such as the BBC to launch P2P-Next, a new peer-to-peer research project.  The project, which involves an investment of tens of millions of dollars, hopes to advance current P2P technologies to create the "next-generation Internet television distribution system."

The move toward distribution without copy-protection - often referred to as DRM-free - is also increasingly the norm. Guinevere Orvis, one of the interactive producers on the CBC show, acknowledged last week that "DRM is dead, even if a lot of broadcasters don't realize it." Many in the music industry share that view, as all of the major international record labels have abandoned copy-protection for music downloads in the face of consumer criticism and interoperability concerns. Similarly, many of the world's largest book publishers have dropped DRM for their audiobooks, after finding that consumers simply weren't making unauthorized copies of electronic books without copy-protection.

While the CBC may succeed in paving a new path for content distribution in Canada, it is also placing the spotlight yet again on Canadian network management practices. Viewers around the world may welcome the use of BitTorrent, however, Canada's Internet service providers may be less enamoured by the development.   Companies such as Rogers have admitted that they actively limit the amount of bandwidth allocated for file swapping on BitTorrent.  Those practices - known as traffic shaping - may leave Canadians wondering why they are unable to swiftly download CBC content.  In fact, critics point to the anti-competitive effects of ISPs limiting access to new forms of video distribution, while actively offering consumers competing video services.  

The CBC's BitTorrent experiment represents an enlightened approach to content distribution that reduces costs and makes Canadian content readily available to a global audience.  It would be ironic if ISP network management practices ensured that viewers outside the country enjoyed better access to the program than the Canadian taxpayers who helped fund its creation.

cbc bittorrent column

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses again on the CBC's decision to distribute the finale of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister without DRM on BitTorrent. The use of BitTorrent may come as a surprise to those who mistakenly equate file sharing solely with infringing activities.  BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer technologies are finding increasing favour with legitimate businesses attracted to its ability to distribute content in an efficient, cost-effective fashion.

The CBC's Next Great Way To Distribute Content

Teaser: 
http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/349948 Appeared in the Toronto Star on March 24, 2008 as CBC Prime Time Ready for BitTorrent Last night, the CBC aired the finale of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister, a television program that attracted attention not only for its sizable audiences and the participation of several former Prime Ministers, but also for its emphasis on Internet-based participation.  As part of its nationwide search, the show conducted YouTube auditions, resulting in hundreds of videos and thousands of comments.  It followed up a Facebook group that has hundreds of members who have posted photos, videos, and engaged in active discussions. Yet the CBC saved the best for last.  This morning it plans to release a high-resolution version of the finale without copy protection on BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer protocol that is often linked with unauthorized file sharing.  The public will be able to download, copy, and share the program without restrictions. The CBC notes that this marks the first time that a North American broadcaster has released a prime-time program in this manner.  In doing so, it is demonstrating its willingness to experiment with alternative forms of distribution as it works to meet its statutory mandate that requires the public broadcaster to make its programming "available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means."    The use of BitTorrent may come as a surprise to those who mistakenly equate file sharing solely with infringing activities.  BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer technologies are finding increasing favour with legitimate businesses attracted to its ability to distribute content in an efficient, cost-effective fashion.   Indeed, the CBC's model comes from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, which last month used BitTorrent to distribute "Nordkalotten 365," one of the country's most popular programs.  The experiment proved very successful, with tens of thousands of downloads at virtually no cost to the broadcaster. Moreover, the European Union recently joined forces with leading broadcasters such as the BBC to launch P2P-Next, a new peer-to-peer research project.  The project, which involves an investment of tens of millions of dollars, hopes to advance current P2P technologies to create the "next-generation Internet television distribution system." The move toward distribution without copy-protection - often referred to as DRM-free - is also increasingly the norm. Guinevere Orvis, one of the interactive producers on the CBC show, acknowledged last week that "DRM is dead, even if a lot of broadcasters don't realize it."   Many in the music industry share that view, as all of the major international record labels have abandoned copy-protection for music downloads in the face of consumer criticism and interoperability concerns. Similarly, many of the world's largest book publishers have dropped DRM for their audiobooks, after finding that consumers simply weren't making unauthorized copies of electronic books without copy-protection. While the CBC may succeed in paving a new path for content distribution in Canada, it is also placing the spotlight yet again on Canadian network management practices. Viewers around the world may welcome the use of BitTorrent, however, Canada's Internet service providers may be less enamoured by the development.   Companies such as Rogers have admitted that they actively limit the amount of bandwidth allocated for file swapping on BitTorrent.  Those practices - known as traffic shaping - may leave Canadians wondering why they are unable to swiftly download CBC content.  In fact, critics point to the anti-competitive effects of ISPs limiting access to new forms of video distribution, while actively offering consumers competing video services.   The CBC's BitTorrent experiment represents an enlightened approach to content distribution that reduces costs and makes Canadian content readily available to a global audience.  It would be ironic if ISP network management practices ensured that viewers outside the country enjoyed better access to the program than the Canadian taxpayers who helped fund its creation.   Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.
Date Published: 
Monday, 24 March 2008
Publisher: 
Toronto Star
Description: 
cbc torrent column
Monday March 24, 2008
Bell Secretly Throttling Wholesale Internet Services? - UPDATED
Internet chat boards are buzzing with concerns that Bell has begun throttling Internet traffic for its wholesale services.  In other words, third party ISPs that buy their connectivity from Bell ("resellers") are being left with irate customers who are suddenly subject to packet shaped services.  Apparently Bell did not inform their wholesale partners that new network management practices were on the way, leading to a meeting on Tuesday morning to address the issue.  There are several interesting aspects to this development.  First, the early online chat included responses from resellers such as Teksavvy indicating that they do not believe in throttling traffic, presumably unaware that Bell was limiting their service.  Second, some posters have reported that the throttling has undermined their ability to download the CBC episode of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister, precisely the concern that many predicted when CBC announced its willingness to use BitTorrent for content distribution.  Third, customers have been using Google Maps to chart locations that have experienced throttling, a nice use collaborative mapping technologies. Update: Bell has now reportedly confirmed that full throttling will be in place by early April. It claims that it is entitled to do so based on its contractual terms.  Note that several people have written to emphasize the anti-competitive effects of this policy, given its impact on resellers servicing the business market. Update II: This issue is clearly not going away - mainstream media coverage from the CBC and the Globe along with a Facebook group.
bell throttling resellers

Internet chat boards are buzzing with concerns that Bell has begun throttling Internet traffic for its wholesale services.  In other words, third party ISPs that buy their connectivity from Bell ("resellers") are being left with irate customers who are suddenly subject to packet shaped services.  Apparently Bell did not inform their wholesale partners that new network management practices were on the way, leading to a meeting on Tuesday morning to address the issue. 

There are several interesting aspects to this development.  First, the early online chat included responses from resellers such as Teksavvy indicating that they do not believe in throttling traffic, presumably unaware that Bell was limiting their service.  Second, some posters have reported that the throttling has undermined their ability to download the CBC episode of Canada's Next Great Prime Minister, precisely the concern that many predicted when CBC announced its willingness to use BitTorrent for content distribution.  Third, customers have been using Google Maps to chart locations that have experienced throttling, a nice use collaborative mapping technologies.

Update: Bell has now reportedly confirmed that full throttling will be in place by early April. It claims that it is entitled to do so based on its contractual terms.  Note that several people have written to emphasize the anti-competitive effects of this policy, given its impact on resellers servicing the business market.

Update II: This issue is clearly not going away - mainstream media coverage from the CBC and the Globe along with a Facebook group.

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