One year ago, the telecommunications companies were seeking to downplay the importance of net neutrality. It would appear that the CRTC is not buying that anymore. In a speech to the 2008 Canadian Telecom Summit, CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein had the following to say about the issue:
Another issue of increasing importance is net neutrality.
On April 3, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers – CAIP – asked the Commission to issue a cease-and-desist order to Bell Canada. It would direct Bell to stop the practice of traffic shaping on its wholesale broadband access services. The members of CAIP buy these tariffed services from Bell to enable them to serve their own Internet customers. Traffic shaping is the slowing down or “throttling” of Net activity. CAIP said that this practice by Bell was interfering with its members' ability to serve their customers. As part of its application, CAIP asked for interim relief in an order that would require Bell to immediately stop throttling its Gateway Access Service.
On May 14, after receiving further submissions, we denied CAIP's request for interim relief. We determined that they had failed to show that their members would suffer irreparable harm without that relief. Since then we have asked for, and received, more specific information from CAIP and Bell. We expect to deliver our final decision on CAIP's application in the fall.
We are currently addressing the traffic-shaping issue in the context of Bell's wholesale broadband access tariff. But this particular dispute is just the tip of the iceberg. Under the heading of “net neutrality” lies a whole range of questions affecting consumers and service providers. Fundamental issues of technology, economics, competition, access and freedom of speech are all involved. Here are some of them.
Access to content or services
- Blocking of services or websites.
- Preferential treatment for certain content providers.
- Modification of content.
- A review of limitations on which devices can be connected to the networks of different providers.
- Disclosure by ISPs to ensure transparency in their service agreements with consumers. This would cover issues such as network management and speed.
And there are also privacy concerns. In the coming year, we will continue to study the issues surrounding net neutrality. This process could evolve into a major public consultation in order to obtain the views of interested parties. It is one of the polarizing issues of the day. It will have to be addressed and debated by all of us.
The CRTC Chair has put all the issues on the table – shaping, blocking, preferential treatment, open access, and transparency – while raising the prospect of a major public consultation on the issue. This could represent a major step toward addressing the Canadian net neutrality concerns.