In Case You Missed It: Reflecting on the CRTC’s Net Neutrality Hearing

In case you missed or avoided the CRTC net neutrality hearing, I thought I would post a few reflections (my summaries of the events are available at Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7; additional coverage  While there were some notable anecdotes and quotes (Rogers comment about traffic managing a cure for cancer come to mind), I would point to six key revelations that evolved over the course of the week and a half.

1.   The rate of network traffic growth is slowing. This was raised midway through the first week by Professor Odlyzko and was subsequently confirmed by several ISPs.  The revelations ran counter to the general sense before the hearings that ISPs cannot keep pace with the rate of growth.  In fact, it turns out the opposite is true – reasonable new investment in the networks can address current growth rates.

2.   There is a wide variation in the use of traffic management tools with a different approach for pretty much every major ISP.  There are those that throttle all the time (Cogeco), during large chunks of the day (Bell), only during congested periods (Shaw), or not at all (Telus, Videotron). There are those that throttle upload only (Rogers) or upload and download (Bell).  There are those that use "economic measures" such as bit caps effectively (Videotron) and others that doubt it can be an effective approach on its own (Bell).  This points to the fact that granular rules will be difficult, but broader principled tests are essential.

3.   The rules for retail and wholesale will be different.  The hearing surprisingly included a near-rehearing of the Bell v. CAIP case.  Wholesale services were much discussed as the CRTC recognized the potential of independent ISPs to inject additional competition into the marketplace.  Based on the evidence, it would appear that the problems with wholesale are largely a Bell problem.  Many other ISPs that offer wholesale services do not traffic manage or have such small wholesale businesses that the impact is fairly small.  Bell is a big player in the wholesale side and they have designed their network in a manner that makes it difficult to fully exploit the competitive potential of smaller entrants.  While CAIP argued for rules against wholesale throttling but against retail restrictions (thereby abandoning consumer interests), the opposite seems more likely to occur.

4.   Disclosures are woefully inadequate in Canada.  Each day brought new and surprising revelations about how little ISPs tell their customers about their traffic management practices.  By far the most egregious was Rogers, which admitted that it charges tiered pricing for faster upload speeds but that all tiers were throttled to the same speed when using P2P.  In other words, the Extreme subscriber who pays $59.99 per month and is promised fast upload speeds (1 Mbps) actually gets the same upload speed as the Express subscriber who pays $46.99 per month and is promised upload speeds of 512 kbps.  There were similar stories from many other ISPs, who disclosed actual speeds that bring P2P down to a virtual crawl.  Disclosure has improved over the past year as the issue has gained prominence, but there clearly is a long way to go.

5.   Managed networks vs. public Internet.  ISPs do not focus on the fact that many run managed IP networks offering telephony and IPTV on the same pipe as the public Internet services.  When asked whether the two impact each other, the answer came back that it could.  In fact, ISPs were at pains to say that while it could happen, it would not happen since they ensure that they provision enough bandwidth for their managed services.  Yet in examples such as Bell's three users promised 5 megs but with only 10 megs to share, it was apparent that the same cannot be said for oversold public Internet services.

6.   The Commission takes privacy seriously.  The ISPs seemed surprised that the Commission regularly asked about the privacy impact of throttling and deep-packet inspection. The Commission was similarly surprised when Bell admitted that Canadian privacy law would permit the use of DPI data for marketing purposes with the customer's consent.

Where to from here?   The parties will have a couple of weeks to file final submissions and a decision will likely take several months.  My best guess is that the Commission will likely leave the wholesale side alone, though a best case might be to place restrictions on traffic management where the provider has the capability of differentiating between wholesale customers.  Bell says that they cannot do so today, but the introduction of usage based billing might change that equation.

On the retail side, I think a four-pronged approach is possible.  First, the Commission could adopt the Open Internet Coalition/CIPPIC style test based on Oakes 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, the Commission can affirm the role of current law against undue preferences and work to stop any attempt to leverage network management for unfair advantage. Third, it can establish minimum disclosure requirements including information on traffic management practices such as time, targets, and speeds when shaping. Fourth, the Commission can establish a prohibition against the use of DPI data for any purpose other than network management.

Of course, the Commission could decide to do nothing and simply retain the power to address complaints as they arise. If that approach is adopted, I think there would be significant political pushback, with political parties seeking net neutrality legislative reform.


  1. Matematik says:

    Bell: Separating Wholesale from Retail
    Bell claimed yesterday that it can’t distinguish the wholesale traffic from the retail traffic, and therefore throttles both types indiscriminately. A couple of years back, though, Bell was able to throttle the retail traffic for a period of time before they then introduced throttling of the wholesale traffic.
    Am I correct about this bit of history?

  2. @Matematik Bell: Separating Wholesale from Retail
    This is correct. They said at yesterday’s hearing that they throttled retail traffic to start, but it wasn’t enough to fix congestion and thus started throttling wholesale as well

  3. Richard L. Hess says:

    There is no real competition in Ontario
    As I’ve posted several times recently, on June 3rd, Rogers swallowed up Aurora Cable Internet (ACI) here in Aurora, Ontario. (June 3rd was my cutover date, it was phased.) ACI had offered me a Small Office / Home Office (SoHo) package of 3 Mb/s up and down. Rogers had not heard of it (you would think they would match the offerings of the company they were gobbling up) and then gave me the Extreme package (at the same price but with an alleged 1 Mb/s up and 10 Mb/s down.

    The cutover process was costly, as I spent hours on the phone and had to send my wife to the Rogers store to scan in my modem (which I own) as they could not accept the MAC address over the phone.

    I deliver work product to clients via off-site servers which I need to upload to. I do not use P2P for this, but rather straight FTP. You may find out what I do at

    My other option is for DSL with final mile provided by Bell. With previous very bad experience with helping a friend who had Sympatico, I opted for Teksavvy who are really good, but their upload is limited to 600 or 800 kb/s via their contract with Bell. (I think it measures out to be 600, but I’ve heard mention of 800, I’m not worried about this difference, it’s essentially the same.)

    It’s also very annoying to get very frequent calls both directly from Bell and also from 3rd parties authorized by Bell trying to sell me bundles. It’s a new bundle every time I talk to them. It seems as if they like to keep the consumer confused.

    Anyway, On June 3rd I went from having 3.6 Mb/s total outgoing (upload) capacity to 1.6 Mb/s outgoing capacity. I usually didn’t bother to use the 0.6 Mb/s to upload files because the 3 Mb/s was adequate. In fact, having the 3 Mb/s available was an enabler which allowed me to migrate my business model from postal deliver of files on optical disks to electronic delivery. This is good for the environment as most of my clients don’t keep the disks long term as they copy the files into a trusted digital repository.

    My client base is mostly Canada and the U.S.A., but I also have clients in Europe. One of the major deliverables via this method was to Stanford University–about 35 GB worth of data. At 3 Mb/s this took about 35 hours to upload. Even if I use both pipes now, it would take about 65 hours to upload with far greater management effort to manually split the load between two sessions, and if I used Rogers only (as I had with ACI only) it would take about 105 hours.

    Another thing, of course, is bandwidth limits which seem to be shrinking. This 35 GB represented about a month worth of work, but other projects can generate data at higher rates for many reasons.

    Often, now I find that I have to use both outgoing paths in two parallel sessions, so it’s more work for less bandwidth.

    I am very unhappy that the CRTC enabled this swallowing of a small local competitor by allowing Rogers the permission to overbuild Aurora, which never happened because ACI gave up and sold to Rogers (what Rogers had been asking for all along).

    We have NO competition here in Aurora, we have a duopoly which has been shown to not be a real competitive situation. Please unfetter Teksavvy to provide really cool offerings and since DSL doesn’t have the same upload constraints as cable architecture, it seems as if they could offer me a much better service if Bell let them and also if Bell could off-load the Teksavvy traffic closer to the DSLAM.

    Thanks Michael and Rocky (from Teksavvy) for the informative commentary on Twitter during the hearings. We’ll win this eventually!


    Aurora, Ontario, Canada

  4. ISPs must dtop misleading customers in advertised services
    Explain me this, how do ISPs argue that only some users flood the network with P2P when average download speed is 100 Kbps and the advertised plan is for 7-10 Mbps?

    I demand ISPs to deliver services as advertised — 10 Mbps plan should, at minimum, give you the full promised speed — there is no excuse in misleading the customers.

    I would change my ISP in protest, if I could. However, in Canada, the two monopolies hinder any competition and progress.

  5. What heppened to Canada’s lead in telecom?
    I ran BBS’s in the 80′s and the industry BBS’s were always on slower networks then the private ones that used the main backbone.

    I work from home and have a Rogers VOIP, TV and internet and internet I pay the lowest rate and then end up paying another $25 per month for exeeding my bandwidth….when I signed on with them they had unlimited with high up/dl. Since I am moving large files around for work daily, I didn’t think it was prudent to get the extreem because it didn’t offer anything more then the basic (since ul/dl was the same) and just charged you more and if you are using more then 60g per month then 25$ is the cap compared to I think it is $99 for 120g. If I use 120g I still only pay $75 max with basic is all just crap and since they started throttling encrypted traffic, my companies outlook server is slower then crap.

    ISP’s should not throttle…if they sell you something then you should get the full benifit. If Air Canada sold 200 seats on a flight that only had 100 seats then they would have to reinburse you for the overflow if the ISP’s can’t provide the service that they sell without throttling then they should write that in their contract and then if they don’t meet the expected speeds then they should reinburse the holders for slowed speeds.

    My thoughts….

    Good Job Michael on your keeping the tech savy informed.

  6. MLPP/Tomato
    I hate to post something off topic here, but Richard and other users might really benefit from it. You can use an MLPP program such as Tomato to combine both connections. A fun perk to this method is that you also bypass BEll’s throttling. For now at least. Hope it helps.

    Back on topic.
    Agreed, if someone says you’ll have x upload and y download, you should be able to use it however you wish. If you use time sensitive applications, then you should be able to prioritize those yourself. Pretending that throttling is a service offered, as opposed to a limitation, is like government saying they’ll give you a free home and then sending you to a ghetto.

  7. DopefishJustin says:

    Shaw – “congested periods”?
    I don’t know that I buy that Shaw only throttles during “congested periods”, there are several applications that basically can’t upload at all due to Shaw’s meddling (e.g. Ventrilo on anything but the default port, DC++, WinMX), and I haven’t noticed any time of day in which they work properly, even the wee hours of the morning.

  8. Dark Fiber
    Apparently in all this CRTC discussion, companies like Rogers and Bell forgot a little thing called dark fiber. For those of you who are not aware, Dark Fiber is a term used to describe the enormous amount of Fiber optic cabling stretching across canada that is currently dormant. AKA not being used at all. AKA Able to handle all this extra bandwidth if they would just TURN IT ON! Secondly, (to Roy) when a company sells you a 8Mbps, that is the theoretical maximum speed, not minimum, so I can understand that you will rarely see that speed. What I cannot understand is how the ISP can charge me for 8Mbps, reserve 8Mbps for me (by contract), I use less than 10% of that preset speed, and they feel I am using too much and slow me down further because of “congestion”. Congestion does not exist. And if they are unable to support my 100 Kbps then they should not be selling me a plan promising more. Then putting a cap on how much of it I can use.

  9. Well Said
    I would echo Jon’s comments, and suggest that further exploration is needed to determine exactly what the cause of the bottleneck is … just network capacity, just network management policy, or both?