Net Neutrality rally by Alistair (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Net Neutrality rally by Alistair (CC BY-NC 2.0)


Why Canada’s Net Neutrality Enforcement is Going at Half-Throttle

Canada’s net neutrality rules, which require Internet providers to disclose how they manage their networks and to treat content in an equal manner, were established in 2009. The policy is administered by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which releases quarterly reports on the number of complaints it receives and whether any have been escalated to enforcement actions.

At first glance, the reports on the so-called Internet traffic management guidelines suggest that net neutrality violations are very rare. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that last year, there were typically a few complaints each month and all were quickly resolved. The CRTC does not disclose the specific targets or subject matter of the complaints.

Yet according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, the complaints and their resolution give cause for concern. There are generally two types of complaints: those involving throttling technologies that limit speeds to render real-time services unusable or treat similar content in different ways, and quality-of-service issues that seem like throttling to the customer.

The first type of complaint raises real neutrality issues, but the CRTC has been content to “resolve” disputes without any penalty or further action. Xplornet, the satellite Internet provider, was the target of more complaints than any other provider in 2014 owing to its widespread use of throttling technologies. In a request for comment, Xplornet stated that it is aware of 12 complaints regarding traffic management to the CRTC in the last year on a base of more than 250,000 customers.

Its response to most complaints at the CRTC is simply to cite to its posted traffic management policies, which leave some customers understandably confused. For example, a subscriber to its fixed wireless services complained about throttling, only to learn that they were subject to four different throttling policies: a 24 hour usage allowance that cuts speeds in half for those who reach their daily data limit, a “peak hours” throttling policy that limits speeds to some applications between 8:00 pm and 1:00 am, a dynamic congestion policy that limits speeds during network congestion for the top 10 per cent of users, and a usage allowance policy that reduces speeds once subscribers reach their monthly allowance.

The CRTC does not take issue with the Xplornet approach. As long as Xplornet discloses its policies, which the ISP maintains are designed to ensure that each customer receives fair and consistent access to the Internet, it is compliant with the net neutrality regulations.

More troubling are instances where throttling treats similar content in different ways. One subscriber complained numerous times to Xplornet that traffic to the Google Play store was being slowed, while similar requests to the Apple store was not. The ISP dismissed the concerns and only investigated once the subscriber filed a complaint with the CRTC.

Upon review, it turned out that the company was slowing speeds to the Google Play store due to a change in the way the service was delivered. It pledged to fix the problem and the CRTC treated the issue as resolved. Unlike anti-spam and do-not-call enforcement that has led to significant penalties, however, there was no penalty or public admonishment for an obvious violation of the net neutrality rules.

For those providers that do not limit speeds, the complaints invariably involve service problems with ISPs advertising faster speeds than they were able to provide. For example, a Bell subscriber complained that access to Netflix appeared to be throttled each night. The subscriber explained that they were using the online video service at the lowest bandwidth setting and consumed less than 10 per cent of their monthly available data.

When the CRTC asked Bell to look into the issue, the company responded that the subscriber was located far from the nearest equipment available to service their home, leading to reduced speeds. Moreover, the company aggregated traffic from all the neighbours into a single connection, resulting in nightly network congestion. Bell said it was hoping to address some of the problems in the future, but suggested that the subscriber stop using other devices while watching Netflix.

While Bell was not throttling the connection, it was not offering a usable Internet service either (in a request for comment, Bell noted that if a customer is consistently experiencing lower speeds, they should contact them to undertake further testing). Canadian regulations do little to address ISPs that over-promise and under-deliver in terms of speed and connectivity. With subscribers kept in the dark about the technical limitations of services that are unable to deliver a reasonable connection to Netflix, new rules are needed to ensure greater transparency about actual Internet speeds.

Canada’s net neutrality rules have provided consumers with a system to address concerns with their Internet service. However, with no penalties for ISPs that fail to abide by the rules and no limits on throttling that is publicly disclosed, there is surely room for improvement.


  1. “The CRTC does not take issue with the Xplornet approach. As long as Xplornet discloses its policies, which the ISP maintains are designed to ensure that each customer receives fair and consistent access to the Internet, it is compliant with the net neutrality regulations.”

    I find that interesting. The CRTC ruled in the Canadian Gamers complaint that even disclosed throttling isn’t supposed to interfere with other applications, essentially making them unusable, as is the case with throttling and online gaming. There’s already a precedent set on that. Not sure why CRTC would allow Xplornet to throttle connections at all.

  2. As a former Xplornet customer I find this news particularly irritating. The excuse was a lack of proper infrastructure to support continuous use by too many customers at the advertised speeds. The daily limit was extremely low, and even a couple hours of Youtube use would be enough to trigger either the top 10% throttling policy or the daily cap policy.

    If they were at least honest about the speeds they were selling to us for an outrageous 80$ per month (300kbps down after throttling triggered, which would trigger after downloading anything that would actually make use of the 1.5-10mbps they advertise) I wouldn’t have hated them so much. They’re advertising speeds that they can’t actually support, and speed tests don’t even return the advertised speeds in the first place. This is exactly the kind of activity the CRTC should be clamping down on.

    Eventually I just had to move out to Hamilton to get proper internet, as it was clear after five years of dealing with those idiots that I was never going to get the quality of service that we were paying for.

  3. I am particularly dismayed by the Xplornet practices. What Mr. Geist and the CRTC both fail to acknowledge is that most of Xplornet’s customers are rural, myself included, and that no other internet service exists, other than dial-up. Basically, they have a monopoly on rural Canada.

    I am one of the dozen that filed a complaint last year. What did Xplornet do? They un-throttled the ports used by Netflix. I am still, however, exposed to their highly non-tranparent m.o., (daytime throttling of random ports) which I find quite disgusting. They have the rural customer over the barrel, and the CRTC thinks this is OK? I just wish Bell and the cable companies would appreciate the opportunity they have with offering services in rural Canada. I would be the first to jump ship.

    Based on Mr. Geist’s post, I don’t have reason to complain because Xplornet has posted a big sign stating it’s policies, even though those policies defy the spirit of net neutrality. Xplornet is running all the way to the bank on this. It’s time for CRTC to grow a pair and take this kind of activity as a slight to Canada’s tax paying public. Xplornet is clearly taking advantage of this situation.

  4. It’s like talking about taxes or the weather or gas prices. Talk all you want but nothing will come of it but excuses. No matter how poor the service, there is always an excuse how it’s someone else’s or something else’s fault. Either you are too far from a switch, or the weather is crummy, or you’re watching something through too many trunks or everyone is watching something at the same time or it’s just plain old gremlins. The IPs will always come up with a novel way of telling you “tough beans” when you can’t get the speeds you are paying for. What the CRTC needs to do is force IPs to give up MINIMUM numbers so that we can hold IPs accountable. “Up to” means nothing at all. It’s just a vague hint of a promise. We pay a disproportionate amount for ridiculously slow speeds compared to the rest of the world. It’s about time the IPs at least lived up to the piddly speeds they “promise” for the exorbitant prices they demand.

  5. • More over CCTS OR CRTC also not taking as serious as the way of Rules say , I had experience with CCTS they not in the position as Natural and even very serious case simply rebates one or two months consumers fees back and closing the case. When you study the case by community base that would bring their ACCOUNTBLITY AND INTERGRTIY.

  6. Mostly this looks like pretty small potatoes when I can count complaints on my fingers and toes – obviously a lot of internet delivery speed is not the ISP’s fault but bottlenecks created elsewhere.

    My own issue has to do with subscribing to Bell Fibe 12 DSL in a condo where the wiring simply doesn’t support 12mb/sec – I’m going to have to either switch to cable or reduce Bell to a realistic 5mb/sec. Providers ought to be prohibited by the CRTC from promoting internet speeds they can’t get within maybe 75% of. There really is a lot of monkey business in advertised broadband speeds.

  7. I am a current subscriber of Xplornet. I paid for theLTE Plan which includes up to 25Mpbs download speed, 1Mpbs upload speed, Monthly usage allowance 500GB. The cost of all this $99.99 @ month.

    As of this writing my download speed is 1.64Mbs, upload speed 2.64Mpbs Latency 83ms,| Max Download 3.21|Max Upload 6.2| Oct 3rd 2015|time 21:39:54

    Comparing what I am paying for and what I am getting is totally different. It is like this and even worst every night. I Tried to update my Operating System, it took me nearly 4 hours just to get the download. I cannot what a movie from U-Tube without getting interruptions. The signal spikes meaning it comes and goes. I called Xplornet and was simply told in a nutshell this is the way it is going to be. It is extremely frustrating not only for me but for other subscribers. Just go to the Facebook pages of Xplornet and another Facebook site “Xplornet Sucks” to see the amount of complaints.

    It is my opinion that this is commercial fraud being put upon us by Xplornet and the CRTC does not want to get involved because Xplornet has made this information available on their website. However, the CRTC does realize that people living in rural areas hare being held hostages as there are no other ISP’s that can rival Xplorner.