The release last week of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's report on Internet traffic management – known as the net neutrality decision – attracted national attention. Canadians, Internet service providers, and politicians debated whether the regulator had struck the right balance in addressing how ISPs manage Internet traffic. While some headlines seemed to suggest that the CRTC has given Canada's ISPs the green light to do as they please, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the reality is that the decision establishes several notable requirements and restrictions, but leaves the door open for further action from the government.
First, the commission adopted a new test to determine reasonable traffic management practices. Where a consumer complains, ISPs will be required to describe their practices, demonstrate their necessity, and establish that they discriminate as little as possible. The CRTC added that targeting specific applications or protocols may warrant investigation and slowing down time-sensitive traffic likely violates current Canadian law.
Second, the commission rejected arguments that the market would ensure ISPs provide adequate disclosure on how they manage their networks. Instead, it mandated full disclosure of traffic management practices, including information on when they occur, which applications are affected, and their impact on Internet speeds.
Third, the CRTC banned the use of personal information obtained through deep-packet inspection for anything other than traffic management purposes. By also prohibiting the disclosure of such information, the commission ensured that inspecting user traffic cannot be parlayed into marketing opportunities.
These conditions ensure that traffic management is not a free-for-all. The days of ISPs arguing they can do whatever they please on their networks – as some intimated during the summer hearing – are over.