CRTC Sets Net Neutrality Framework But Leaves Guarantees More Complaints

The CRTC's net neutrality (aka traffic management) decision is out and though it does not go as far as some advocates might hope, it unquestionably advances the ball forward on several important fronts.  When considering the decision, it is important to remember that 12 months ago, there was virtually no ISP disclosure of traffic management practices and even an unwillingness to acknowledge that there was an issue.  Today's CRTC decision signifies that traffic management is not a free-for-all and the days of ISPs arguing that they can do whatever they please on their networks is over.  That said, it also guarantees that traffic management practices such as throttling will continue and it is going to take more complaints to concretely address the issue.

The key elements of the decision on retail services:

1.   A new framework for considering traffic management.  Consumers can complain about traffic management practices or the Commission can bring an action on their own.  Where there is a credible complaint, the ISP will be required to:

  • Describe the ITMP being employed, as well as the need for it and its purpose and effect, and identify whether or not the ITMP results in discrimination or preference.
  • If there is any degree of discrimination or preference:
  • demonstrate that the ITMP is designed to address the need and achieve the purpose and effect in question, and nothing else;
  • establish that the ITMP results in discrimination or preference as little as reasonably possible;
  • demonstrate that any harm to a secondary ISP, end-user, or any other person is as little as reasonably possible; and
  • explain why, in the case of a technical ITMP, network investment or economic approaches alone would not reasonably address the need and effectively achieve the same purpose as the ITMP.

2.   There are two key additional considerations.  First, traffic management that degrades or prefers one application over another may warrant investigation under section 27(2) of the Act.  Second, economic traffic management practices (ie. bit caps) are generally viewed as ok. 

3.   The Commission has stepped into the throttling issue.  It has ruled that for time-sensitive Internet traffic (ie. real-time audio or video), where the throttling creates noticeable degredation, this "amounts to controlling the content and influencing the meaning and purpose of the telecommunications in question."  The Commission will require prior approval for such activities.  Even for non-sensitive traffic, the CRTC has ruled that it is possible to slow down to an extent that it amounts to blocking or controlling the content, therefore requiring prior approval.

4.   The Commission has mandated new disclosure requirements.  It is requiring ISPs to disclose their traffic management practices to customers, including:

  • why there are being introduced
  • who is affected
  • when it will occur
  • what Internet traffic is subject to the traffic management
  • how it will affect an Internet user's experience, including specific impact on speed

5.   New privacy requirements

The Commission has established new privacy requirements on the use of information obtained from deep-packet inspection.  It now mandates ISPs "not to use for other purposes personal information collected for the purposes of traffic management and not to disclose such information."

In addition to the retail side of the equation, the decision also addresses wholesale (ie. ISP to ISP).  In a nutshell, where incumbents treat independents in the same manner as their retail customers, the same complaints-based approach applies.  Where the approach is more restrictive, prior approval is required.

While this decision will undoubtedly leave many disappointed, a full prohibition on throttling was never in the cards.  Many consumer groups and net neutrality advocates got some of what they asked for – a test that looks a lot like what they recommended, an acknowledgement of the problems with application-specific measures, new disclosure requirements, new privacy safeguards, and agreement that throttling can violate the law in certain circumstances.  That isn't bad as an overall framework. 

The big question is how to enforce these rules. The larger ISPs may well view the decision as a green light to continue doing what they are doing with a bit more communications.  Indeed, by placing the onus squarely on consumers, the CRTC has virtually guaranteed continued throttling and a steady stream of cases.  There is now more guidance and guidelines but it will take more than just this decision to provide Canadians with the neutral network so many crave.


  1. Any chance consumers will at least get the option to pay more for less/no throttling? I know that would be a bad precedent considering the already crappy state of canadian broadband but other than being informed through some fine print on my next bill that my connection is being throttled I want to know what will come from this ruling.

  2. Where can I complain?
    Does anyone have to URL to submit a complaint to CRTC? I have to work from home via VPN and remote desktop. Ever since Bell introduced throttling my remote desktop screen refresh rate dropped so much that it is causing me my productivity. Throttling VPN for work should be illegal.

  3. I guess I’ll make the same comment as I did at dslreports. What good is any of this if Bell/Rogers will just ignore any rulings the crtc makes and do what they want. It does not seem that the CRTC or Government will enforce the telco’s/cableco’s if they do not adhere to CRTC rulings. Anyone remember the CRTC’s ruling for Bell to open up higher speeds to the independant’s? That was what, over a year ago and it still has not been enforced. Where’s the backbone to slap Bell and fine them for ignoring and direct compliance ruling?

    Seems useless all of this is Bell and Rogers just do what they want when they want.

  4. bit caps vs throttling
    “Any chance consumers will at least get the option to pay more for less/no throttling?”

    My (very preliminary) understanding is that throttling is a “last resort”, so perhaps we should expect more bit caps (limits on amount of data downloaded & uploaded) instead. In that case, yes, we will have the choice -as we do now with some ISPs- of voluntarily cutting back or paying an ‘overage’ fee. Nasty, but clearly stated on the bill.

  5. “Any chance consumers will at least get the option to pay more for less/no throttling? I know that would be a bad precedent considering the already crappy state of canadian broadband but other than being informed through some fine print on my next bill that my connection is being throttled I want to know what will come from this ruling.”

    I know many people using VPN to avoid throttling. As far as I know VPN is not throttled. You may have some other tech issue.

  6. The big ISPs will indeed take this as a license to continue doing what they are already doing. They will continue to be able to throttle any application that takes “too much” bandwidth, despite the fact that you are supposedly paying them for that bandwidth. They can then turn around and resell the difference between what you actually use (as opposed to what you actually would have used) and their real network limit.

    There is absolutely no need to permit throttling of any kind. There are a multitude of ways to manage their network without resorting to that, starting with limiting the number of customers to what their network can physically handle. By leaving the door open on throttling, and not requiring that the ISPs actually live up to the full commitment of the service they are providing, they are allowing the ISPs to continue to neglect their networks and abuse their customers.

    There should be no requirement for customers to complain, let alone for that complaint to need to be judged credible, before the ISPs disclose all their ITMP in full detail.

    All they have done here is add another complicated bureaucracy over top of an already murky system. The customers will be just as helpless as they have ever been, as they lack the legal resources that the ISPs take for granted.

  7. VPN is throttled – it’s a fact
    “I know many people using VPN to avoid throttling. As far as I know VPN is not throttled. You may have some other tech issue. ”

    Above is false. VPN is throttled. I have no other technical issue. The slowing down started happening since Bell’s throttling.

  8. Port Police says:

    Whole slew of undocumented problems
    @OrangeBox and @Nopers

    There are some VPN apps that cause problems with Bells throttle. This was confirmed already a year ago (about). In addition to this, Bell restricts what port you can run the VPN on. In other words, Bell Also pretends to be the port police. If it’s not on a standard approved port, then it’s throttled.

    The issue of certain apps being tossing in the slow lane based on manufacturer is also not unique to just VPN. This also happens with some types of FTP and with apps like ventrillo when used while gaming (as an example).

    So there are indeed two different issues here that would cause the throttling of VPN’ing into work. These are known facts. As for a list of which apps are affected or have been affected and maybe addressed, you can try and google this since Bell will not divulge this info to you (even if you call and ask).

    As for Rogers, no clue.

  9. Well OrangeBox, I’m afraid you are simply going to have make a formal complain. Then the CRTC will have to determine whether your complaint is credible. Then perhaps your ISP will tell you if they are indeed throttleing your VPN. Of course if they argue that it is neccesary to do so. I.E. you use too much bandwidth with your VPN as others do with their P2P, then they will simply continue to do so with the CRTCs blessing this time.

    So in the end you are SOL. Go out and get a real job will ya! hewing wood or drawing water or something. Stop thinking that you can base an economy on something like technology in Canada of all places. jeeez.

  10. Jean-François Mezei says:

    At first reading, the ITMP decision is so full of loopholes that not much will really change. There is a paragraph that excempts the primary carriers from seeking permission to throttle IF they will throttle secondary ISPs to the same level as its own retail customers.

    Essentially status quo, dressed up to give the media the impression that the CRTC passed something interesting.

    There is also confusion on whether all ITMPs need to be documented in tariffs or not.

    Also, the CRTC clearly failed to understand what “throttling” is because it continues under its deluded opinion that thorttling mereley *delays* packets. (throttling either drops packlets or modifies them to confuse recipient).

    If this is national policy, it should get the technicals aspects right.

  11. VPN throttle
    It is my belief and experience Bell has been throttling all encrypted traffic on what they consider “non-standard” ports based on the assumption that it could be disguised P2P traffic.
    If your VPN is using what Bell considers “non-standard” ports then that could be the problem.
    It seems to me that this ruling should address this issue, but who knows if Bell’s filtering will change or if they will just ignore it.

  12. Richard Sexton says:

    I’d be happy if DNS worked the way it’s supposed to
    I ask for X but I get Y. Where’s the form to complain?

  13. Dropped and delayed says:

    Response to J.-F.
    That sounds nitpicky at best, J.-F. The CRTC does not say that throttling delays “packets”, it says that throttling causes traffic or transmissions to be delayed. From the standpoint of traffic flows, rather than individual packets, “delay” is a pretty good description. Do you see any practical implication at all that flows from your insistence that the CRTC talk about packet-level behaviour as opposed to flow-level results? And is that really the argument on which you’re hanging your they-just-don’t-understand hat?

    @OrangeBox, if you have not gotten anywhere with Bell on this, strongly suggest you go the Web site or give a call to the CCTS.

  14. What a sad state of affairs. Simply put the CRTC is regulating industries that stand to lose much if the internet wasn’t throttled and bandwidths increased. Google voice on Iphone (free phone calls. absurd!), listening to music (trends show consumers don’t want CD’s anymore) or watching video (major isps operate most if not all satellite and cable video services in this Country). These ARE currently the type of public trends that drive innovation. Those who do capitalise on these trends are the very ones making money keeping the public happy with toys. If the CRTC continues the course soon we will be back to talking on tin cans with string. Good news is you’ll be able to include this in a bundle to save $$$. CRTC has created the barrel people and you’re the fish. Just my opinion…

  15. Jean-François Mezei says:

    A common carrier carries packets of data. It does not carry movies, files, VoIP etc. It must remain agnostic to what end users exchange between each other, just like telephone conversations.

    So yes, there is a significance to willfully dropping packets to slow down particular types of transmissions.

    If a telephone company willfully inserted periods of silence in a telephone conversation, you would find yourself having to repeat sentences because the other person would not have received them in their entirety and would ask you to repeat. Yes, the end result is that it takes longer for you to say what you had to say. But at the carrier level, it means that bell is purposefully tampering with the communication.

    A carrier of data can delay packets no more than you can slow the speed of light emitted by your lightbulb. If you have a 1gbps link, packets travel at 1gbps. And there is no large “pond” when you can temporarily store packets to let others pass by.

    A national regulator should not be allowed to pass such vague regulations that are interpreted any way you want.

  16. Laurel L. Russwurm says:

    credible complaint
    One thing I do know from the research I have done: what Bell is calling throttling is not what the rest of the world calls throttling as Jean-François Mezei points out. In the rest of the world, throttling does not require Deep Packet Inspecation. What Bell Canada is calling throttling is the same practice that got Comcast in trouble in the States. Yet in Canada Bell Canada does not get in trouble, in Canada it gets CRTC approval.

    The underlying issue is Bell Canada’s BIG LIE: the internet is congested. Bell is forced to throttle internet users.

    Yet Canadian internet users did not feel the effects of “congestion” until Bell Canada began practicing what they call “throttling”.

    I’m curious as to how an ordinary customer is supposed to make a credible complaint. How is an ordinary customer supposed to know that it isn’t just the mystery shrouded internet gods frowning on them which is causing it to take five minutes to open Michael Geist’s blog. How is any customer supposed to know they are being throttled? How can any ordinary customer make a credible complaint?

    Consumers do not have the means to go out and do an investigation into internet voodoo unless they happen to also be independently wealthy and can afford to hire the best professionals to look into it. (Last time I looked, Bruce Wayne was a fictional character.) Which is why Canada HAS a regulatory body, the CRTC. The CRTC exists to PROTECT CONSUMERS.

    If you haven’t gotten around to signing the online petition yet, this would probably be a good time:

  17. To follow up on JF’s comment, the impact of dropping packets can in fact make the problem that much worse on connection oriented protocols, as the receiver needs to request a retransmission of the dropped packet. This of course leads to the same packet being sent multiple times, so not only is the backbone affected, so is the last mile now.

    Some applications can survive a certain amount of this occuring. However, not all. I’ve used apps (and written them as well) which time-out the “connection” to detect failure of the other end (for instance, multicast or where a portion of the connection is via a serial link).

  18. Somebody needs to bring up Canada’s broadband rankings. It seems to me that not enough investment has gone into broadband expansion. Canadians are paying a lot more for lower speeds then most developed countries. Where is all of our money that we pay on a monthly basis to ISP’s going? Certianly not expansion to handle market demand if there is a “need” to throttle networks. Down, and down we go on the broadband list. At this point next year, let’s see if we can hit the bottom of the barrel.

    There needs to be legislation set on this issue at the federal level, since broadband expansion and penetration is an economic issue. We used to be in the forefront with tech and science. What a sad, sad country this is turning out to be. Too many dumb cattle we have in Ottawa as representation, not enough people who can even use google. RIM should make those blackberry’s more harder to learn how to use. Make them google for

    Major generation gap, that’s going to impact our economic stability in jeopardy big time. At least this is a workable issue, but with whom and for what needs to be answered.

  19. Too littel Too late
    Sure there are new rules in place but throttling is the main reason the CRTC was even looking at this. I know there’s a lot of other things at stake but I really wish the CRTC would have came out and said that throttling is wrong. Now you just have to fill out some paperwork if you want to gouge the customer and if the throttling case a few months ago is any indication it will be a slam dunk for the incumbents to get CRTC approval. They’re basically enabling the incumbents to throw net neutrality in the trash by giving them a framework on how to do it. Not only that, they have these rules but what really happens when they don’t follow them? most people don’t know that the CRTC told both Bell and Telus to give higher bandwidth tiers to ISPs so far the have ignored the ruling and nothing is happening. I think this will turn out to be more of a guideline than rules the ISPs will have to follow. This is just another example of the pussification that goes on at the CRTC or at least i hope its pussification not outright corruption.

  20. in the mean time I would just like to thank you Dr. Geist for providing the portal through which my awareness of these issues is increasing daily. In other words(iow) you are doiung a good job and it is appreciated!

  21. Canada… Again.
    Why is Canada so ass-backwards on every tech and mobile issue? Even the imperials to the south got this correct!

  22. !
    I’m going to protest by changing my service provider, both mobile and ISP! Wait… that won’t make much difference because there is no choice or competition.

  23. Umm
    “a full prohibition on throttling was never in the cards”

    Really? Then why have I been wasting my time reading this blog?

  24. Nancy Paterson says:

    Bellheads, Netheads
    (…) the track record of
    Bell heeding the CRTC’s rulings has not been good. Last year Bell was
    ordered to offer matching speeds to their wholesale GAS customers to
    that of their retail offerings, they simply never complied. This ruling
    only applies to time sensitive traffic, most of which Bell does not
    currently throttle. While I think most people would agree that its
    completely wrong to throttle the traffic of a third party wholesale
    customer, the reality is that Bell does this every day and will continue
    to do so regardless of what the CRTC tells them.
    from NANOG listserv Oct 21-09
    Nancy Paterson
    PhD candidate, YorkU, Comm & Culture

  25. Could Michael or someone please explain how proposed FCC rules announced Oct 22 differ from what CRTC is offering? Thanks.

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    * Describe the ITMP being employed, as well as the need for it and its purpose and effect, and identify whether or not the ITMP results in discrimination or preference.
    * If there is any degree of discrimination or preference: