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CRTC Net Neutrality Hearing Open Door To Regulatory Action

Regulatory hearings on Internet traffic management practices held in windowless rooms in Gatineau, Quebec in the middle of summer are not likely candidates to attract much attention.  Yet, as my weekly technology column notes (Toronto Star version, homepage version) for seven days this month, hundreds of Canadians listened to webcasts of Internet service providers defend their previously secret practices while engaging in a robust debate on net neutrality. The interest in the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearing may have caught the regulator off-guard (the webcast traffic was, by a wide margin, its most ever for a hearing), but it was the testimony itself that was the greatest source of surprise.

The seven-day hearing was billed as a debate over whether rules are needed to govern ISP network management practices. While many Internet users remain unaware of the issue, behind the scenes ISPs employ a variety of mechanisms to control the flow of traffic on their networks, with some restricting or throttling the speeds for some applications.

Those practices have proven highly contentious, with creator interests, technology companies, privacy rights organizations, and consumer groups all expressing fears that they may curtail innovation, invade user privacy, stifle competition, and create an uneven playing field for content distribution.  ISPs argue that such measures are essential to provide their subscribers with a good experience at an affordable price.

Days of testimony revealed the issue is far more complicated than the rhetoric might suggest. First, there is a wide variation in the use of traffic management tools with a different approach for pretty much every major ISP.  Some throttle all the time (Cogeco), some during large chunks of the day (Bell), some only during congested periods (Shaw), and some not at all (Telus, Videotron).

Second, ISP disclosures are woefully inadequate. For example, Rogers admitted that it charges tiered pricing for faster upload speeds but that all tiers are throttled to the same speed when using peer-to-peer applications.  In other words, subscribers to the Extreme service pay $59.99 per month and are promised fast upload speeds (1 Mbps) but actually get the same upload speed as Express subscribers who pay $46.99 per month and are promised upload speeds at half that rate.

Third, notwithstanding the perception that network traffic is growing dramatically, the reality is that the rate of growth is actually slowing. ISPs acknowledged the could cope with the growing demand through reasonable new investment in their networks.

Given all the competing evidence, what is the Commission likely to do? A four-pronged approach is possible.  

First, it could adopt a test advocated by the Open Internet Coalition, a group of technology companies that includes Google, that permits traffic management practices so long as they further a pressing and substantial objective, are narrowly tailored to the objective, and are the least restrictive means of achieving the objective. This test would give useful guidance to ISPs and ensure that there are appropriate limits on traffic management practices that have no clear correlation with network congestion.

Second, it can affirm the role of current law against leveraging network management for unfair advantage. Third, the Commission can establish minimum disclosure requirements including information on traffic management practices such as time, targets, and the actual speeds consumers are likely to experience. Fourth, it can dictate limits on the use of personal data that ISPs obtain from traffic management.

Alternatively, the Commission could decide to do nothing and simply retain the power to address complaints as they arise. If so, significant political pushback is likely with political parties lining up in the fall in support of net neutrality legislation.

15 Comments

  1. My money is on option 5 – They do nothing!
    We all know how corrupt and biased the CRTC is and we all know that they only exist as enablers to the Telcos and large ISPs. The CRTC does not fulfill their mandate to protect and operate for the benefit of Canadians at large. The members on the board of the CRTC have no integrity, especially Konrad Von Finkenstein, and just like our politicians and corporate lobbyists, so too are our regulatory bodies rife with corruption. It will take major demonstrations, public outcry and protest across our great nation to overcome this goliath!

  2. Even with Demonstrations, Outcry and Protest…
    We may not be able to shift them. We’re dealing with a deeply entrenched bureaucracy and there’s a painful amount of inertia to overcome just to get the CRTC to acknowledge that there ARE problems, much less do anything to solve them.

    I’m not optimistic. I have a feeling we’ll see the Telcos and ISP’s continue to get just what they want at the expense of the Canadian Citizen. The CRTC seems too packed with industry insiders and too bereft of an everyday, individual Canadian viewpoint.

  3. malus malum says:

    Traffic Shaping is not by definition “Bad”
    Traffic shaping is a good thing.
    I’m happy if my mail comes a wee bit slower if it means my VoIP call won’t sound crappy.

    I’m happy if my ftp or bit torrent runs a little bit slower if it means that the YouTube video I’m watching doesn’t run herky jerky.

    I run a large corporate network, we do traffic shaping.
    Business applications get preferential treatment to other less important applications.

    I started an ISP in 1992, and I’ve traffic shaped.

    It’s not that traffic shaping is by definition “Bad” The problem is that it’s done for the benefit of the Telco or Carrier, and not for your benefit.

    It’s bad because you have to haul these jerks in front of the CRTC and put a gun to their heads before you can get any details at all on the how and why’s.

    There is no transparency, what they sell you and what you get are two different things, and it’s not being done for your benefit so much as theirs.

    That’s what makes it maddening.

    Ironically the company that makes all this possible is Sandvine Technology in Waterloo, a Canadian company.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandvine

  4. pat donovan says:

    grunt
    whislt Bell et all hire german math grads and other masters to optimize THEIR …
    dogma. yes, dogma is the correct term here.

    would you like to know what an email cafe does a user saps all the availble bandwidth now?
    pat

  5. You need a refresher in math
    Your language that says “notwithstanding the perception that network traffic is growing dramatically, the reality is that the rate of growth is actually slowing” appears to be intended to show that claims of internet growth rates being high are wrong. “Rate of growth is slowing” is irrelevant to the growth rate itself. The growth rate is actually much less on a percentage basis, but it is on a much higher base. Internet traffic growing at 50% per year on top of today’s level calls for huge investment.

    And despite ISPs being able to invest to handle the 50% annualized growth, this is irrelevant to the need for applying network management to handle localized peaks and unfair consumption of bandwidth by applications that aren’t needed in real-time.

  6. Who do you work for . ?
    How about a little background for your opinions when all evidence points contrary
    to yours, Bell’s, Rogers’, etc.
    I find it shameful that consumers are put into that gutter-style legal system of Canadians be considered guilty before innocent and having to prove to the flawed, in this case, corrupted regulatory body, that it is indeed the Telcos and ISPs which are at fault, to blame and committing the anti-competitive and fraudulent crimes. It is just another case of who has more money(i.e. the corporations) to hire the lawyers, PR reps and lobbyists to fight for their corrupt cause and rip-off Canadians. At least Canadians have the numbers to fight back and that in itself should speak volumes as to why these crooks should and need to expand their infrastructure and not charge more for less through throttling under the guise of Network Management!

  7. malus malum: Traffic shaping can be done on most routers model (qos), even the dd-wrt firmwares offer it. For DPI traffic shaping there are hundreds of companies that do it not just Sandvine. Cisco, Procera, Juniper, Force10, Camient, Allot, Arris, Arbor just to name a few off the top of my head… But I do agree with you its the lack of transparency that causes so much of the anger around traffic shaping.

  8. Darryl Moore says:

    malus malum, You are right. “Traffic Shaping is not by definition “Bad””, but the key to when it is or is not bad is reveled when you also say “I run a large corporate network, we do traffic shaping. ”

    Traffic shaping is not bad, when it is done by you on your local network. It is bad when it is done by the ISP.

    An ISP should be able to offer a certain minimum bandwidth through their network, and a fixed cost for volumes of data. If you are within these parameters, the ISP should not be touching your bandwidth. If you are outside these parameters, then the ISP should restrict bandwidth only as much as need be so that their other customers can maintain their minimum bandwidth. And do so equally for all data. There should be no need for DPI.

    If you have an application that requires higher priority then it should be your equipment that manages it. Not theirs.

  9. What does disclosure matter if you have no choice of providers in the first place? Oh wow, now I can find out from the worst source of information (the ISP) just how badly they’ll screw me over.

    I already do my research and know this in advance, unfortunately, without any real competitors, it can’t accomplish much in the end.

    Just like how the CRTC wants to mandate that Canadian TV stations spend as much on Canadian content as they do on foreign content, every dollar spent by providers on regulatory affairs should have to be matched as donations to groups that represent consumers.

    That would level the playing field.

    Asking ordinary people who have regular jobs that aren’t in regulatory affairs to have to represent the entire public is just a recipe for failure. It’s like a loose-knit group of people trying to shut down the mafia. Good luck.

  10. Mindless Malus on the loose…
    Hey MINDLESS MALUS :

    “…Traffic Shaping is not by definition “Bad”
    Traffic shaping is a good thing.
    I’m happy if my mail comes a wee bit slower if it means my VoIP call won’t sound crappy….”

    What !!!?
    Do you honestly think for even one minute, that this traffic-shaping, DPI,…or any of this crap, whatever you want to call it, will help anything.?

    ->Every tcp/ip protocol/service will be affected for the worst, and not just “SLOOOOOW-DOOOOWNS”, it will affect ALL Internet quality. We’re already slooow, our web pages will konk out with “…can’t connect to server…. blah blah”.
    You’ll have these same errors and crap on everything -from MSN to skype dropping connections, from http -> ftp -> voip ALL dropping connections sporadically.
    Do you honestly want this for your INTERNET ?!!! you just lost all your customers bud, or you’re probably retiring anyway. πŸ˜‰

    Buddy/Buddette you are a total baffoooooooon !, who and/or what PR-work are you doing this for.
    You couldn’t run your car without casuing an accident, let alone running
    “a large corporate network, we do traffic shaping….” DUHHHHH !

    Get outta here Jack ! crawl back under your Bell Marketing office desk will ‘ya ?
    “…What is evrybody looking at… ? ”
    NOTHING !!!
    Hey remeber that “SNL” cartoon series back in the day.? -“The Ambiguously Gay Duo”
    Hey Malus, do you have a “…wee bit…” too ?
    πŸ™‚ comon, that is kinda funny though.

    respectfully.

  11. Downwind from the corporates
    Most of you corporate fartbags use your own corprate network, you probably don’t even use your own Bell.Rogers @ home accounts at all πŸ™‚ -now do you.?
    You get the nice big fat clean pipes comin in and then you do what you gotta do to supply your services or whatever- with your little Fortinet’s πŸ˜‰
    But the Consumer is down-wind from ‘ya all. We don’t have any choice for ISP’s -thats the main problem.
    “Upgrading” our Network is what the Bell/Rogers should have been doing in the first place, its a simpler, cleaner and much more stable (bandwidth-wise) method, in the long, long run, than just the above mentioned techniques.
    Bell will probably “magically” upgrade their network when it comes to their “Video-on-Demand” though, ? sure, they’ll open up those pipes then.

    its almost hopeless πŸ™

  12. “…Open Door To Regulatory Action”
    “Open” Doors with a “Close”-Minded ISP will only show us how they’ve been screwing us.
    This ain’t the Paris Peace Talks people. “THEY” need to be re-structured.
    Its not “their” network to begin with. -the canadian public/consumer has been paying for it for over a 100 years. Its ours anyway, simple as that.
    Upgrade it, get more fibre laid. Thats what we’re payin’ you for. ! Give the Internet back to the Canadian public CRTC ! -no, no, like DO IT NOW !!!

    on a side note, their old corporate ice castles are sure showing cracks now.
    πŸ˜‰ -oh ya !
    Hey Bell/Rogers, do you see these below sites : ?
    michaelgeist.ca
    saveournet.ca
    netneutrality.ca

    all the above weren’t focusing on these issues years ago, let alone they weren’t even around. I bet you would just love them to go away wouldn’t you?

    Soooo, the Canadian consumer isn’t that sloooooow are they Bell/Rogers ? hahaha…
    We’re definitely NOT as sloooooooooow as you ISP’s have been lately -‘dats a fact jack. Now get back to work and start doing the honest right thing will ya ?!!! OR, you cab become a bad spot in Canadian History.? -the choice will soon NOT be yours -get it? -gooooooood.
    Now be a good Boyz, and try and play fair.

    thankyou.

  13. Traffic shaping and prioritizing
    Yes, it is important that time sensitive applications get priority. However, it should be left up to the end user to decide what should have priority and what should not. What if the user does not have home phone? What if the only point for this entire connection is transferring files using Bittorrent. People think p2p, they thing tentavily illegal downloads. They forget the massive Linux community out there. They forget companies like Blizzard, that incorporate the technology to send their videos.

    We bought our connections because of advertised speed. A lot of these major telco’s force you into a contract. To be told after the fact that the advertised speed is only available in very specific circumstances is not fair. To hid behind the fact that you can always switch providers, and then traffic shape every single DSL provider in the area is not fair.

    Yes I want my home phone to have priority, I want it to take priority during the whole 50 minutes a night I may use it. The rest of the time, I want my proper speeds I was told I was going to have.

  14. “…the Commission could decide to do nothing…”
    “…Alternatively, the Commission could decide to do nothing and simply retain the power to address complaints as they arise….”

    hahahahah…sry, I couldn’t help myself.
    That’s the best one.

    you mean to tell canadians that the CRTC,… HASN’T been doing this anyway all this time ?

  15. Jorge Pires says:

    More info on the test of “reasonable”(congestion related) traffic management practices
    Quote:
    “First it could adopt a test advocated by the Open Internet Coalition, a group of technology companies that includes Google, that permits traffic management practices so long as they further a pressing and substantial objective, are narrowly tailored to the objective, and are the least restrictive means of achieving the objective.”

    Question:
    Could anybody refer me to a webpage or document about this test?
    I have searched the website of Open Internet Coalition (OIC) for more info on it, but did not find anything.