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.