My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, Vancouver Sun version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) focuses on the competition concerns raised by Bell's throttling plans. I begin by noting that the CRTC has long acknowledged that Canadians enjoy limited competition for high-speed Internet services. In response, it has supported independent ISPs by requiring incumbents like Bell to provide wholesale broadband Internet service at regulated rates. While it is difficult to price-compete - the Bell wholesale pricing creates an effective minimum price - independent ISPs such as Chatham-based Teksavvy and Ottawa’s National Capital Freenet have carved a niche in the Canadian market through attention to customer service, innovative bundling approaches, targeted network investments, and community ownership.
Last week, this important piece of the Canadian Internet connectivity puzzle learned that its future viability has been put at risk due to Bell's plans to "throttle" its wholesale services. Last year, Bell began installing "deep packet inspection" capabilities into its network. The DPI capabilities - which allow ISPs to identify the type of content that runs on their networks - did not go unnoticed by the independent ISPs since DPI is also used to "throttle" Internet content by scaling back the amount of bandwidth allocated to particular applications.
While Bell employed these throttling technologies with their own Sympatico customers, some independent ISPs sought assurances that it would not be applied to the wholesale services. Sources advise that Bell responded positively that its plans were limited to its own customers, consistent with its 2003 assurance to the CRTC that it would only engage in limiting bandwidth for wholesale services "in cases of troubleshooting or to protect the network infrastructure from congestion resulting from malfunctioning or mis-configured equipment or malicious hacking."
bell, crtc, isp, Net Neutrality, net neutrality, throttling, traffic shaping, Internet service providers, CRTC
Bell was in the spotlight throughout the weekend, with much online discussion about the comments made by a Bell spokesperson, a leaked Bell document indicating that the company is moving toward bit caps with unlimited additional costs, and postings on the impact of Bell's throttling.
bell, Net Neutrality, net neutrality, throttling, Internet service providers, CRTC, Broadcasting and Telecom, Neutrality Blog
Comcast and BitTorrent struck a deal today that may lead to the U.S.'s largest cable provider treating content equally. While some remain skeptical, this deal is surely is a product of the FCC's clear indication that it was willing to intervene against non-transparent traffic shaping practices.
bittorrent, comcast, fcc, Net Neutrality, net neutrality, traffic shaping, Internet service providers, Neutrality Blog
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.
bell, bittorrent, cbc, crtc, Net Neutrality, net neutrality, rogers, throttling, traffic shaping, Internet service providers, Broadcasting and Telecom, Neutrality Blog
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).
bittorrent, cbc, Net Neutrality, net neutrality, traffic shaping, Internet service providers, Copyright, Cultural Policy, Neutrality Blog