My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, Vancouver Sun version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) focuses on the competition concerns raised by Bell's throttling plans. I begin by noting that the CRTC has long acknowledged that Canadians enjoy limited competition for high-speed Internet services. In response, it has supported independent ISPs by requiring incumbents like Bell to provide wholesale broadband Internet service at regulated rates. While it is difficult to price-compete – the Bell wholesale pricing creates an effective minimum price – independent ISPs such as Chatham-based Teksavvy and Ottawa’s National Capital Freenet have carved a niche in the Canadian market through attention to customer service, innovative bundling approaches, targeted network investments, and community ownership.
Last week, this important piece of the Canadian Internet connectivity puzzle learned that its future viability has been put at risk due to Bell's plans to "throttle" its wholesale services. Last year, Bell began installing "deep packet inspection" capabilities into its network. The DPI capabilities – which allow ISPs to identify the type of content that runs on their networks – did not go unnoticed by the independent ISPs since DPI is also used to "throttle" Internet content by scaling back the amount of bandwidth allocated to particular applications.
While Bell employed these throttling technologies with their own Sympatico customers, some independent ISPs sought assurances that it would not be applied to the wholesale services. Sources advise that Bell responded positively that its plans were limited to its own customers, consistent with its 2003 assurance to the CRTC that it would only engage in limiting bandwidth for wholesale services "in cases of troubleshooting or to protect the network infrastructure from congestion resulting from malfunctioning or mis-configured equipment or malicious hacking."