Canadian ISPs Fall Short In Meeting Net Neutrality Requirements

Last fall, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued its much-anticipated Internet traffic management ruling, better known as the net neutrality decision. The case attracted national interest as the CRTC established several key requirements for Canada’s Internet providers.

These included new transparency obligations that forced ISPs to disclose their network management practices, such as why the practices were introduced, who will be affected, when it will occur, and how it will impact users' Internet experiences (down to the specific impact on speeds). The CRTC also opened the door to complaints about network management practices by establishing a test that any harm to users be as little as reasonably possible.

Several months later, Canada's ISPs have had ample time to comply with the new requirements, yet my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) reviews the policies from the biggest ISPs – including Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc., Telus, Cogeco Inc., and Groupe Vidéotron – and reveals a decidedly mixed bag.

Two of the six providers – Telus and Vidéotron – do not have explicit network management practice disclosures since neither currently uses throttling or traffic shaping technologies that limit the speeds of some applications.  Of the remaining four providers, no one makes it easy to find the disclosures and at least two may not be compliant with the CRTC requirements.

Bell features the most detailed disclosure, providing specific information about its policies and their impact.  While critics may object to the positive spin the company uses to describe limitations on its service, it has done precisely what the CRTC asked.  The Rogers policy is not quite as extensive, yet it also covers much the same terrain, including a description of the policy, the frequency of traffic shaping, and the resulting limitations in their service (including the specific impact on speed).

By contrast, neither Shaw nor Cogeco appear to meet the CRTC requirements.  Shaw's policy, which can be found within its terms of use, does not disclose the actual speeds users encounter when it throttles peer-to-peer activity.  Cogeco, which implausibly claims "customer experience is never affected by the application of [its] measures," similarly does not disclose the speeds that result from its throttling practices.

Not only are two providers arguably failing to meet the transparency requirements, but some traffic management practices may be ripe for complaint.

Telus and Vidéotron once again get a pass, since neither uses throttling technologies, opting instead for economic measures that add additional costs for heavy broadband users.  Shaw's policy also appears compliant with the CRTC minimal harm threshold, since it limits its throttling practices to actual instances of congestion on specific segments of its network.  

Meanwhile, Rogers and Cogeco continuously throttle all upstream P2P traffic. Both providers admit that the limits on their service occur on a 24 hour, 7-day basis, regardless of whether the network is actually experiencing any congestion.  For example, Cogeco claims "it is [our] experience that congestion created by P2P can occur at any time within a 24-hour period."  This may be true, but the failure to limit throttling activities to instances of actual congestion is surely grounds for a CRTC complaint.

While Bell limits its throttling practices to specified periods, its defined period is so broad that it too may be the target of a complaint. Bell discloses that its throttling practices, which target upload and download traffic, runs from 4:30 pm to 2:00 am.  By covering nearly half the day, the company could face questions about whether the policy limits harm as much as reasonably possible.

The CRTC's net neutrality guidelines garnered well-deserved plaudits last year, yet the true test will be whether the guidelines will be enforced effectively.  Last month, the CRTC sent letters to several ISPs – including Shaw, Rogers, Cogeco, and Bell – seeking action.  The ISPs have yet to respond.


  1. Heh
    Is this really all that surprising? 😛

    Somehow I doubt the CRTC will ever get off their lazy asses to actually enforce the rules they themselves made…

  2. Typical Canadian pessimism
    You can tell that the ISPs are full of it becuase

    1. They ONLY throttle P2P
    2. They throttle either all the time or most of the time
    3. Many have been throttling for more than a year even in well developed/suburban areas. If it was really an issue with the infrastructure you think they’d try to improve customer experience by building up capacity so they handle what they advertise.

    Throttling is clearly a way for the incumbent providers to limit online services that compete with their own. At the same time they save cash by not investing in infrastructure while they screw the customer with false advertisements. You can’t avoid giving one of these companies money in Canada. The CRTC is either corrupt or incompetent for not doing something about these companies.

  3. well-deserved plaudits ?!?
    “The CRTC’s net neutrality guidelines garnered well-deserved plaudits last year”. Plaudits? From who? With all due respect Michael, you’ve been on the wrong side of this issue since the CRTC released it’s decision last fall. The CRTC decision was a full out cave-in to the big ISPs which allowed them to continue business as usual with no meaningful restriction on what they can and can’t do.

    Even the requirement to disclose how the throttling is implemented is meaningless. For example, you mention “Bell features the most detailed disclosure, providing specific information about its policies and their impact”. Detailed?!?

    To paraphrase Bell’s site, “we throttle P2P during peak times”. Ok, how is P2P traffic identified? If I have a non-p2p application that is running slowly, how do I tell if it’s being caught in the throttle? Where is the detailed technical description of how the filtering works?

    If I’m thinking about investing in an innovative Internet based application where is my assurance that I’ll be able to get the information I need to ensure my business isn’t damaged by some change in throttling? And are we expected to do this “dodge the throttle” dance for every ISP across the country? The message is clear, if you’re an Internet innovator, steer clear of Canada.

    Throttling creates uncertainty and uncertainty kills investment. No investment, no innovation and we continue down our path as a technological backwater.

    The entire CRTC decision unravels right at the start:

    12. “The Commission notes that in … Telecom Order 99-592, it concluded that the retail Internet service market was sufficiently competitive to protect the interests of users.”

    Telecom Order 99-592 was issued in 1999! Today, the vast majority of Canadians have at best, two providers. The entire country is serviced by either your Telco, or your Cable co and as any economics student will tell you, a duopoly is NOT real competition. The entire CRTC decision is based on the “fact” that it’s OK to allow throttling because there is competition, but that is wrong.

    And the requirement to demonstrate a need for throttling is a complete joke. How does an ISP ensure there is a need? Just don’t invest in any new infrastructure then you can ensure congestion and a “need” to throttle.

    This decision gave the ISPs everything they could every dream of and returned next to nothing back to consumers.

    Those are only a couple of the key points. I’m not here to plug my blog so I won’t link to it, but I posted about the decision in detail and there many more reasons why it’s bad.

  4. really
    In the case of Shaw
    SNIP >” Shaw’s traffic management policies come into effect only if upstream network congestion occurs on a network segment. If congestion occurs, the traffic management policies reduce the amount of upstream bandwidth available for P2P applications completing non real-time file transfer activity. ”

  5. really really
    then why is my upload a constant 1.5 meg and my download ranges from 2.4 to 25 meg.
    If we have no independent monitoring of the throttles then we are lost.

  6. Headache
    If Bayer marketed Aspirins in this manner they would only produce one Aspirin a year. Face it Canada, we’ll all be wearing telco banana republic stickers soon!

  7. CRTC Who?
    Cogeco is the worst offender and they will blatantly lie to you over the phone regarding throttling practices. As a past subscriber to there extreme which claims 16M down 1M up, i could never get those speeds unless i was surfing the web, i couldn’t even use a online backup system as it would cut me off. Now with a smaller ISP i get better all around speeds even though it is only 5M down and 800k up, i the kicker, i pay more then half of what i paid with cogeco.

  8. Penalty
    Hopefully the CRTC will show some teeth and bite back at anybody who does not adhere to their rules.

    …. With full disclosure this time. Not like that do not call list fiasco.

    Let us, the consumer, help deal with these rogue companies by taking our buisness elsewhere… not that it’s always possible with duopolies, but, one can try.

    Technically though, it’s a triopoly. Don’t forget satalite. But then again, explorenet isin’t exactly the posie in the pot either.

  9. theninjasquad says:

    How would we go about launching a complaint against any of the ISPs in regards to this with the CRTC? I wouldn’t mind complaining about Bells throttling.

  10. Where are these statements
    I am a rogers customer and it would be great to actually be able to see this statement, but i cannot find it anywhere. does anyone have a link or could Michael post links to all six of these statements that he is referencing.

  11. Joel: Your joking, right? Check out XplorNet’s satellite prices. The HIGHEST capacity satellite link, KaZOOM, 1 1Mbps download, 256 kbps upload, all for the low, low price of $80 per month at the current special offer rate (no mention of download caps). On Rogers, the closest plan is $36 per month. For Bell, the Essential Plus is higher speeds for $22 per month. The equivalent to Essential Plus for XplorNet on terrestrial wireless is $65 per month on the special offer (3 year contract).

  12. TekSavvy
    Where do they come in on this?

  13. uncogeco
    I signed up with cogeco on May of this year (2013). Now I made up my mind to cancel my cogeco account with my home phone and internet service in less than a year. I want to voice my opinion here so that more people can learn from my lesson and dont get fooled by this company. This company made a lot of money out of me by charging me the internet overage usage. So I wanted to upgrade my package to higher level and didn’t mind to pay more for mothly fee. But they didn’t provide my to the higher level package because they said they didn’t have that in my area. Then when I wanted to cancel the account, they charged me $75.00 plus tax for the panelty. This is robbery and their customer service personnels are very rude. In here, I recommand people call this number 1-877-482-5522, they provide high speed internet service for $44.95/month for unlimited usage and their customer service is fantastic. It is worth it for me to pay panelty of $75.00 and go for a much better and cheaper service. I have a version, something like Cogeco so called monopoly wont last long, because there are some other companies are appearing with more compatitive service out there. Pelple need to know.