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    Canada's Net Neutrality Enforcement Failure

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    Friday July 08, 2011
    Two years ago, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission conducted a much-publicized hearing on net neutrality, which examined whether new rules were needed to govern how Internet providers managed their networks. While many Internet users remain unaware of the issue, behind the scenes Internet providers employ a variety of mechanisms to control the flow of traffic on their networks, with some restricting or throttling the speeds for some applications.

    The Commission unveiled its Internet traffic management practices in October 2009, establishing enforceable guidelines touted as the world’s first net neutrality regulations. Where a consumer complains, Internet providers are required to describe their practices, demonstrate their necessity, and establish that they discriminate as little as possible. Targeting specific applications or protocols may warrant investigation and slowing down time-sensitive traffic likely violates current Canadian law.

    While there was a lot to like about the CRTC approach, the immediate concern was absence of an enforcement mechanism. Much of the responsibility for gathering evidence and launching complaints was left to individual Canadians who typically lack the expertise to do so. Nearly two years later, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) posts an investigation into the system that reveals those concerns were well-founded.

    Although the CRTC has not publicly disclosed details on net neutrality complaints and the resulting investigations, I recently filed an Access to Information request to learn more about what has been taking place behind the scenes. A review of hundreds of pages of documents discloses that virtually all major Canadian ISPs have been the target of complaints, but there have been few, if any, consequences arising from the complaints process. In fact, the CRTC has frequently dismissed complaints as being outside of the scope of the policy, lacking in evidence, or sided with Internet provider practices.
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    OECD Report Ranks Canada Among Most Expensive Broadband Countries

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    Thursday June 23, 2011
    The OECD has released its latest round of data on broadband services in 33 of the world's most developed countries [update: While today's release is new and incorporates this information into the OECD Communications Outlook 2011, a reader points out the broadband data was first released two months ago]. While there will be the usual attempts to downplay the data, the OECD findings once again confirm that Canadians pay more for broadband services than consumers in most other developed countries. Consider the average monthly subscription price in three of the most common speed bands:
    • 2.5 to 15 Mbps - Canada ranks 28th out of 33 countries (the survey covered eight different Canadian plans)
    • 15 - 30 Mbps - Canada ranked 29th out of 33 countries (the survey covered four Canadian plans)
    • Faster than 45 Mbps - Canada ranked 23rd out of 28 countries (the survey covered three Canadian plans)
    In addition to the OECD tracked the range of pricing per megabit - Canada ranked 28th there too. Moreover, Canada remained one of the only countries with universal data caps as all plans reviewed by the OECD included an explicit bit cap (the only similar countries were Australia, Iceland, and New Zealand - all far more isolated than Canada).

    The OECD also tracked broadband subscriptions. Canada ranked 13th for wired broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants and 23rd for wireless broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. This data was supplied by the Canadian government.

    The results are unmistakable - Canada remains a laggard when it comes to broadband services with a middling ranking in overall broadband subscriptions and one of the poorest rankings based on price at all the most common speeds. The OECD data covers Canada's largest ISPs including Bell, Rogers, and Shaw, meaning it accounts for a sizable chunk of the overall subscriber market (particularly in Ontario, where the data covers the overwhelming majority of subscribers). The incumbent providers will trot out the excuses (geography, limited sampling, etc.), but the data speaks for itself, telling a troubling story of high prices that will leave many Canadians wondering whether we will ever see a more competitive broadband market.  
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    Rogers Faces Yet Another Net Neutrality Complaint

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    Friday June 10, 2011
    Teresa Murphy has filed another complaint against Rogers over its Internet traffic management practices, claiming its alleged fix of problems with World of Warcraft have not worked.
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    Rogers Vice Chair Says Netflix Should Face Canadian Regulatory Obligations

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    Monday May 09, 2011
    Rogers Vice Chair Phil Lind has told Cartt.ca that Netflix should face Canadian regulatory obligations, though he declined specify precisely what they should be.
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