CRTC Net Neutrality Hearings Open Amid ISPs’ Conflicting Claims

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hosts long-awaited network management hearings this week, pitting Canada’s telecom and cable companies against a broad range of consumer, creator, and technology groups in a fight that may help clarify whether Canada has – or should have – net neutrality laws.

The telecom and cable companies will likely maintain that managing their networks, which may include using "deep packet inspection" to identify subscriber activity and limiting available bandwidth for certain applications (a practice known as throttling), is essential to ensure optimal access for all subscribers. Consumer associations, independent Internet service providers (ISPs), broadcasters, creator groups, and technology companies are likely to warn against network management practices that raise competition, privacy, and consumer rights concerns.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that as the Commission weighs the various claims, it would do well to consider the testimony it heard just a few months ago during the February new media hearings.  The issue at play at those hearings was whether ISPs should face a levy to fund new media or be required to prioritize Canadian content (the CRTC declined to do both in its decision released last month). Interestingly, the same telecom and cable companies that will now argue that managing their networks is essential, offered a somewhat different take when confronted with the prospect of doing so in the name of supporting Canadian content.  

For example, Shaw Communications's network management submission states "traffic management is necessary to ensure that Shaw's customers continue to have access to fast, reliable and affordable service." It adds the "traffic shaping process uses deep packet inspection (DPI) technology to identify packets that are associated with P2P file-sharing applications and to slow those packets down, limiting the amount of available capacity P2P traffic consumes."

Yet when CEO Jim Shaw was asked about the prospect of identifying traffic during the new media hearings, he told the Commission, "we can only tell you how many bits are coming in or out. We don't know what kind of bit it is. It could be anything from an e-mail to a porno. We don't know that. We spend no time trying to figure out what bits are going to your house. We just don't know."

The same inconsistencies arise within the context of the technological capability of discriminating against certain content.  While the telecom and cable companies will argue their network management practices do not target specific content, when asked about the issue during the new media hearings, an expert witness for MTS Allstream told the CRTC "now it does happen on some basis. It happens, for instance, under the purview of intelligence agencies quietly. There are things that go on; however, the consumers haven't been directly told ‘We are going to start sniffing your packets.'"

In fact, when net neutrality supporters point to the need for an "open Internet" that treats content and applications in an equal manner, they might remind the CRTC that they are not alone in making that case.  

During the new media hearings, Rogers Communications told the Commission "there is no walled garden, there is no preferred content, it's just a pipe. We are moving to a big, wide-open pipe," while the same MTS Allstream expert, perhaps foreshadowing the outcome of the network management hearings, acknowledged "when a commercial interest attempts to violate the principle of openness, as it is defined by the open culture movement, there tends to be a very dramatic and forceful rebuking."


  1. Dead in the Water says:

    CRTC – Canada is losing jobs due to throttling
    I currently work for an American company, and bring wealth into Canada. That is in danger now because of excessive and unpredictable throttling. My job requires me to occasionally (once a quarter) download large virtual machines (50 – 100 GB range)from corporate headquarters in the USA. I used to be able to get this done over a weekend at speeds approaching the bandwidth my ISP makes me pay for. No more. Now it takes weeks, at speeds of less than one twentieth of WHAT I PAY FOR. This hampers my ability to contribute, and is jeopardizing my ability to work from a home office. Does Canada really want to let Bell make us an internet backwater???????? Hello? anyone home in Hull???????? How can I pay for your fat CRTC pensions if I can’t work?????? Idiots.

  2. Dead in the water, that is interesting. I downloaded two entire Linux repositories a few weeks ago. (about 120GB) It only took about 3 days. I am using Primus DSL on Bell lines. I don’t recall if there was speed reduction during “prime time”, which I believe is something like 2PM-2AM, but there was sufficient non-throttle time to allow my repos to come down the pipe in relatively short time.

    It is possible that your issue isn’t actually with bandwidth throttling. If it is you might simply try another ISP. Bell throttles during “prime time” perhaps other ISPs throttle always. Dunno.

  3. Darryl Moore says:

    hey lets be fair here
    “traffic shaping process uses deep packet inspection (DPI) technology to identify packets that are associated with P2P file-sharing applications and to slow those packets down, limiting the amount of available capacity P2P traffic consumes.”

    “we can only tell you how many bits are coming in or out. We don’t know what kind of bit it is. It could be anything from an e-mail to a porno. We don’t know that. We spend no time trying to figure out what bits are going to your house. We just don’t know.”

    These two statements might seem contradictory on the face of it. Indeed the ability to identify e-mail packets from other types is in fact quite easy. However, being able to tell the types of packets transmitted on the network from the contents of those packets are two entirely separate ball games.

    While the ISPs may indeed be able to distinguish email from porn and other videos, they would be quite hard pressed to actually identify the particular video. Indeed, since much P2P traffic is encrypted, being able to say anything at all about the media being transfered could be all but impossible, but that does not mean they can’t tell it is P2P traffic. With that in mind, and considering the context of both these quotes, the ISPs are being entirely consistent.

    I tend to support Michael in most of his arguments, and indeed am a big supporter of Net Neutrality for all the the reasons he offers. However I cannot help but think he is either being a little disingenuous with this post or does not understand the technology as well as he should.

    In his defense though, I must say that the little bit of spin he puts into this argument pales in comparison that done by both the ISP and content industries. Michael is generally a very straight shooter.

  4. Devil's Advocate says:

    Let’s be real, Darryl…
    The reason the 2 statements you’re referencing appear contradictory is because THEY ARE. They were both made by the same provider at different times, to suit the argument at each time.

    If you keep it really simple, there’s no question.
    The first statement says they use DPI, while the second one is trying to say they either don’t use DPI, or they’re denying that DPI could identify the bits.

    Either way, the second statement is a lie.

    Michael is indeed a straight shooter.
    It is Bell that has been disingenuous to everyone throughout this.

  5. Dead in the Water: just leave Canada
    and tell your MP that unfair treatment of Canadian telcos made you leave Canada for good.

  6. Darryl Moore says:

    The Devil is missing the details
    As I said you have to consider the context. The second quote was taken from new media hearings with regard to the ISP’s ability to identify packet data for the purpose of enforcing Internet levies and the like. Something they cannot do with DPI and likely never will be able to do. That is not a lie.

    The first quote is with regard to managing bandwidth. For this purpose DPI works, all-be-it, rather like a hammer works for putting in a thumb tack, with considerable collateral damage. None the less, it works.

    DA:”If you keep it really simple, there’s no question.”

    The problem is these are complicated issues that you cannot keep simple without introducing some measure of spin.

    There are many good arguments for net neutrality that can be made without resorting to this sort of spin, so why do it? Lets concentrate on exposing the ISPs spin and presenting real arguments rather than introducing spin of our own.

  7. Michael Geist says:

    Response to Darryl

    I believe the only one here being disingenuous is Shaw. You can’t show up to the CRTC in February and claim that you run a dumb pipe in which you don’t know what apps or content – right down to email or video – your subscriber is accessing and then come back several months later to argue for the right to run a smart pipe in which you shape traffic depending upon the application.

    I realize that the context was different – that’s the point. When Shaw was facing the prospect of new media regulation it characterizes its network management capabilities in one way. When it faces the prospect of net neutrality action, it characterizes it another. That isn’t spin, it’s merely asking for some truth in advertising.


  8. Devil's Advocate says:

    Context was immaterial in that case
    That’s what I meant about “keeping it simple”. When you look at it from a “black and white” perspective, the second statement was simply a lie. You don’t need to dissect it any further when you find a lie.

  9. Timothy Friesen says:

    Response to Michael Geist

    In this case Darryl is indeed correct. This is simething that I brought up at the time on a story you had written reporting on the “dumb pipes”.

    The pipes are indeed dumb in that they cannot tell what type of content is being transferred. DPI will not tell you if a video file contains a television that was created in Canada or in the United States. DPI cannot be used to verify is a file is “CANCON”.

    DPI can be used to verify the type of file and what protocol is being used to transfer that file. So… Shaw can tell that I am sending an e-mail and gather information about the files attached to said e-mail. They can probably even read the contents of files attached to that e-mail.

    Do you think they can draw context and conclusions from the files that are attached to that e-mail? That is what I think Shaw was referring to.

  10. Darryl Moore says:

    Michael, with all due respect, context is everything. Here is some of the context of your Jim Shaw quote: (This full transcript is here


    10258 So I guess the problem we have is when you say we are not talking about regulating the Internet, I understand what you are saying but you are by just raising the question of, you know, are incentives or regulatory measures necessary or desirable for the creation and promotion of Canadian broadcasting content in new media, and all we are saying is no.

    10259 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. But remember the quote you just read is “Canadian broadcasting content on new media.” That’s what I’m talking about. I mean where I’m leading to is, I understand people saying yes, some of the content from traditional broadcasting is now distributed over the Internet or wireless. I think that is undeniable.

    10260 The question is how much? How do you measure? That’s why for the six questions we sent out prior to this hearing, the first one, the key one, we said, is: Can we get some definition on this because how can one measure this? You just now said —

    10261 MR. SHAW: We don’t know.

    10262 THE CHAIRPERSON: I can’t recall your exact words but you said they basically use the Internet for everything else and just a small portion for video in broadcast. You may be right, you may be wrong, I don’t know, you don’t know unless we measure. Can you help us with the measurement?

    10263 MR. SHAW: We can only tell you how many bits are coming in or out. We don’t know what kind of bit it is. It could be anything from an e-mail to a porno to an adult to a video this, to a that. We don’t know that. We don’t know that. We spend no time trying to figure out what bits are going to your house. We just don’t know.


    It is quite clear from this that what the commission is seeking is whether the ISPs have the ability to determine the content of the Internet packets for the purpose of regulating Canadian content on the Internet. While Jim Shaw’s answer was inaccurate with regard to email vs. video, and his own simplification led to the unfortunate spin which you are now exploiting, he was entirely correct within the parameters of what the commissioners were asking for. DPI cannot do this.

    Using DPI within the context of regulating bandwidth is a completely other matter. A poor tool with many negative side effect for sure, but a marginally effective one none the less.

    Comparing these two statements out of context would be similar to comparing my responses to my next door neighbours when each asks me whether my Ford Mustang is fast. One neighbour drive a Smart Car and the other drives a Lamborghini. My answers to each of them are understandably quite different.

  11. Overdue
    One foreceful rebuking, coming up.

  12. Dead in the Water says:

    In answer to Tux
    Funny how quickly someone pointed out that my cable service has just been brought down below the level of a DSL. Is this what Bell is really after? – the ability to quietly shape traffic such that it only makes sense to use DSL. The rest is just smoke. Meanwhile, Canada’s competitiveness is plummetting, and we’re rapidly losing what little remaining respect the world has for us as a participant in the all-important knowledge economy. I guess we all go back to hewing wood and drawing water.

  13. Rohan Jayasekera says:

    Context indeed
    Darryl Moore points out above why that quote needs to be taken in its context. And activities that ISPs are forced into by intelligence agencies also need to be viewed in context: these are hardly activities that the ISPs themselves came up with!

    This post fits with the general pattern I see in the Net Neutrality debate of painting the ISPs as evil organizations with secret agendas that must be exposed by unearthing bits of evidence here and there, conspiracy style. Let’s look at the reality. BitTorrent and Kazaa and similar protocols that are predominantly used for piracy are being throttled, so as not to slow down the rest of the traffic. That’s all. I and most other Internet users in Canada don’t use such protocols at all, whether for legal or illegal use, and I want the ISPs to continue throttling them so that our online activities don’t get slowed down by the people who are downloading pirated movies to their massive hard drives.

    The Internet isn’t some pure idealistic vision; it is a real network with real capacity issues that need to be managed. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “the tragedy of the commons”. Remember what the advent of spam did to email.

  14. Darryl Moore says:

    Rohan Jayasekera, please don’t take my criticism of Michael’s argument to be in any way supportive of the ISPs.

    The ISPs do have an agenda, though I do not know how secret it is. I am quite sure that given the opportunity they would do everything they can to control the content as well as the network. Keep in mind that the major ISPs are coincidentally also the major cell phone carriers, and they have done a fantastic, and damaging, job of controlling the content on those networks. Strong Net Neutrality laws are of extreme importance.

    WRT Bittorrent. The selection of that protocol to throttle is essentially arbitrary. The ISPs select it because, they say, it gobbles up so much band width. You think that is okay because it is often used for illegal file sharing, but there is no corolation between these two attributes.

    Today it is bittorrent. Tomorrow may well be VOIP or video streaming, or any number of other LEGAL uses. But once the ISPs set up a precedent for throttling there will be no stopping them from throttling any protocol that “slows” their network, which would in turn justify them charging you and others more for a premium service. Goodbye net neutrality, hello tiered Internet.

    If, on the other hand, the ISPs were forced to deal with their band width issues through more legitimate methods such as less overselling, network improvement, and customer $/GB charges more in line with costs, then they would not need to throttle and we could be assured of real network neutrality too.

    The idea that you can’t have net neutrality and a well managed network at the same time is a false dichotomy. Don’t fall for it.

  15. Devil's Advocate says:

    Let’s look at throttling from a somewhat “non-technical” angle…
    All “technical” arguments about throttling completely ignore one very important thing – the provider is failing to deliver what it sold to the customer, and blaming the customer in the process.

    The same, “greedy, selfish, whining bastards with a 24/7/365 mission to keep downloading copyrighted materials” are still paying full price for their connections, sold to them to have the capabilities they’re “guilty” of insisting on using. Has anyone, ever, been offered a rebate for the reduced service?

    What really gets me about this argument, is that, from a provider’s view, it’s okay to keep taking the full payment, while…
    1) reducing services contracted by that payment
    2) continuing to advertise “unlimited” and “always on, always fast” connections
    3) continuing to sign up new customers
    4) “upping” the line speeds they’re not prepared to deliver
    5) eliminating previously offered base inclusives (i.e news servers/mail servers)
    6) introducing their own content services, requiring bandwidth they claim to not have for their customers
    7) not investing any reasonable percentage of that money (acquired from the unreduced fees) to raising capacity

    If the pipe’s so damned full, and we’re supposed to accept that and cooperate through concessions, then I ask providers, why keep stuffing the pipe yourself and trying to get more people to help you do that??

    (And, if the money’s so tight that upgrading the network is a problem, then why has Bell been allowed to acquire yet another company just recently??)

    The bottom line is, no matter what type of “technical obstacles” you want to argue about, it was the providers that made the promises, took the money, and then proceeded to renege on those promises. All other arguments are outside of this basic fact, and only serve to distract from the real issue.

    Personally, this whole idea of users just “being whiners”, “expecting too much”, “needing to get real”, and “not appreciating the providers’ ever-expanding demand in today’s world” comes from the major industry players that have been caught with their pants down, period.

  16. Devil's Advocate says:

    The second statement was a lie, in any context!
    “…It could be anything from an e-mail to a porno. We don’t know that…”

    This statement, regardless of what context it’s being used, is still saying they can’t tell “anything from anything”.

    Since they already said they were using DPI, the statement can only be horseshit, and, therefore, it DOES contradict the other statement.

    They may have been speaking in a different context in each event (to suit the situation), but a lie is still a lie.

    As far as I’m concerned, Michael was perfectly correct in pointing out the incongruency, and the Devil missed no detail.
    : )

  17. “BitTorrent and Kazaa and similar protocols that are predominantly used for piracy are being throttled, so as not to slow down the rest of the traffic. That’s all. I and most other Internet users in Canada don’t use such protocols at all, whether for legal or illegal use, and I want the ISPs to continue throttling them so that our online activities don’t get slowed down”

    Here here! Also, since I have heard that pirates are prodominantly youth or young adults, I propose that all subscribers between 13 and 25 be throttled as well. I’m not of this age, so I don’t want them slowing my connection!

  18. Devil's Advocate says:

    You better hope everyone understands that type of sarcasm. You get so many clueless twits that spew the same garbage, it might be hard for someone to tell if you’re kidding or not! : )

  19. @Devil
    I was in a strange cynical mood today, but being understood is sometimes overrated. Others will build on the point I started. A linux user (after my own heart) even! Admitedly, despite sarcasm being hard to convey without tone, I expected that grandpa post to be more obvious though 🙂

  20. Overselling capacity and lying
    Devil’s Advocate describes perfectly the problems we customers are having. The issues are ISPs are overselling their capacities, and lying to their customers and everyone else. Once a customer signs up, one pays for the advertised price while getting the shafted services and support. Then, the ISPs blame and throttle the customer for using the services as advertised.

    The ISPs see themselves in the future as content providers, if they’re not already, rather than mere service providers; and, they want throttling powers now to undermine future competitions and/or whoever else they don’t like.

    If Japan has 100+Mbps connections while Canada has 5-10Mbps, then we seriously need more competition in Canada. Begin with Net Neutrality laws to prevent anti-competitive behaviours.

  21. Devil's Advocate says:

    “being understood is sometimes overrated”

    Interesting angle!