Canada’s Net Neutrality Enforcement Failure

Two years ago, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission conducted a much-publicized hearing on net neutrality, which examined whether new rules were needed to govern how Internet providers managed their networks. While many Internet users remain unaware of the issue, behind the scenes Internet providers employ a variety of mechanisms to control the flow of traffic on their networks, with some restricting or throttling the speeds for some applications.

The Commission unveiled its Internet traffic management practices in October 2009, establishing enforceable guidelines touted as the world’s first net neutrality regulations. Where a consumer complains, Internet providers are required to describe their practices, demonstrate their necessity, and establish that they discriminate as little as possible. Targeting specific applications or protocols may warrant investigation and slowing down time-sensitive traffic likely violates current Canadian law.

While there was a lot to like about the CRTC approach, the immediate concern was absence of an enforcement mechanism. Much of the responsibility for gathering evidence and launching complaints was left to individual Canadians who typically lack the expertise to do so. Nearly two years later, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) posts an investigation into the system that reveals those concerns were well-founded.

Although the CRTC has not publicly disclosed details on net neutrality complaints and the resulting investigations, I recently filed an Access to Information request to learn more about what has been taking place behind the scenes. A review of hundreds of pages of documents discloses that virtually all major Canadian ISPs have been the target of complaints, but there have been few, if any, consequences arising from the complaints process. In fact, the CRTC has frequently dismissed complaints as being outside of the scope of the policy, lacking in evidence, or sided with Internet provider practices. Rogers Communications has been the target of nearly half of all cases opened in response to net neutrality complaints. In recent months, there have been multiple complaints arising from bandwidth throttling of World of Warcraft, a popular multi-player online game. Rogers initially denied any wrongdoing, only to later acknowledge that there was a problem. The company promised to address the issue, though no consequences arose and it was not forced to publicly disclose the issue.

In November 2010, Bell Canada was hit with a complaint over throttling download speeds from, an online locker service that lets users store and access music and other files from any computer. Bell admitted its deep-packet inspection technology was mistakenly treating downloads from the site as peer-to-peer activity and slowing connection speeds. Bell promised a fix, but only after asserting that it was compliant with the guidelines.

There has been only one complaint that led to a clear change in provider policy. In January 2010, ExaTEL, an Ontario-based Internet phone company, filed a complaint against Barrett Xplore, a satellite Internet provider. ExaTEL alleged that Barrett Xplore was degrading Internet telephony traffic, creating an unfair advantage for its own phone service.

The CRTC ruled that there was no undue preference, but that the throttling of time sensitive traffic violated its guidelines. Faced with the prospect of changing its practices or seeking special approval from the CRTC, Barrett Xplore changed its throttling approach to ensure that Internet telephony was unaffected.

Barrett Xplore was also the source of the longest running complaint as the company took months to respond to CRTC requests to improve its disclosure practices. Only after the Commission threatened to launch a public proceeding into the matter did Barrett Xplore respond.

On occasion, the CRTC is itself the source of the problem.

In March 2010, a complaint was filed against Cogeco, a cable provider with a traffic shaping policy that continuously limited bandwidth for peer-to-peer applications on a 24/7 basis. Given the CRTC’s requirement that traffic management limits be linked to actual network congestion, the Cogeco policy raised red flags.  Even so, the CRTC demanded that the complainant provide more evidence before it would investigate.

In a December 2009 complaint against Bell over throttling access to the website, the CRTC dismissed the complaint on the grounds the site did not appear in Bell’s list of affected sites.

Yet even when the CRTC pursues a complaint, there is little actual investigation. Most activity is limited to exchanging correspondence or prodding Internet providers to respond. This typically leads to revised disclosures, rather than real changes.

After more than 30 investigations in nearly two years, it is clear improvements are needed. At a minimum, the CRTC should be publishing all public complaints and resolutions so that the issues obtain a public airing. Moreover, the system needs penalties for violations as well as pro-active audits to ensure Internet providers are compliant with their obligations. Without change, the CRTC’s net neutrality rules offer little protection for Canadian Internet users.

The CRTC provided a response in advance of the publication of this column, noting that it is looking at ways to make complaint information public:

Our policy was praised for being fair and practical: allowing users to have as much freedom to explore the Internet while giving the ISP the flexibility to manage their networks to ensure that their customers receive an acceptable level of service.

As to the issue of making the complaints and relevant correspondence public, we are looking at ways to be more transparent while respecting the privacy rights of the complainants.
Under the current legislation, the Commission has limited tools to enforce its rules.

New tools, such as AMPs (administrative monetary penalties) allow the Commission to be more effective in its enforcement activities, as we have demonstrated in the case of DNCL (the Do Not Call List) and the significant penalties that were recently imposed.

Below is a full list of all complaints and resolutions obtained via Access to Information from the CRTC. It is complete as of early June 2011. Links are provided to original CRTC letters and responses from the parties.

ISP, Date, CRTC File Number Complaint Resolution
June 2011
CRTC #538009
Intercepting failed domain name requests and redirecting to company pages Ongoing
May 2011
CRTC #534293
Degrading Skype, Net2Phone Ongoing
May 2011
CRTC #528197
Calculation of bandwidth usage. Monthly usage not charged fairly. Denied. No regulation of retail services. Referred to CCTS.
Bell Canada, TekSavvy
May 2011
CRTC #526400
Throttling applications even when no network congestion. Denied. Burden on the complainant to provide evidence. No evidence provided of specific apps or length of time affected.
May 2011
CRTC #529619
Throttling of peer-to-peer applications. Denied. Rogers discloses this practice.
May 2011
CRTC #533015
Inability to see monthly Internet usage Shaw deactivated feature when it dropped usage based billing.
April 2011
CRTC #517209
Throttling of World of Warcraft online game. Leads to regular disconnection. Admits problem and promises to fix.
April 2011
CRTC #530230
Throttling of World of Warcraft online game. Leads to regular disconnection. Admits problem and promises to fix.
March 2011
CRTC #522253
Throttling of World of Warcraft online game. Leads to regular disconnection. Admits problem and promises to fix.
March 2011
CRTC #517209
Throttling of World of Warcraft online game. Leads to regular disconnection. Admits problem and promises to fix.  “Problem is not due to a Rogers’ policy but rather due to a software problem which we will fix as soon as possible”
March 2011
CRTC #529411
Advertising of Speed Boost inconsistent with World of Warcraft throttling. Denied. Marketing outside of policy. No evidence of violation provided.
March 2011
CRTC #527577
General throttling concerns. Telus works with customer to address speed problems.
March 2011
CRTC #529146
Limiting HTTP upload rates and limiting upload on port 55145. Unknown
February 2011
CRTC #505052
Disclosure of throttling practices inadequate as effect of upload throttling not fully discussed Agrees to amend disclosure page
February 2011
CRTC #511366
Disclosure of throttling practices inadequate as effect of upload throttling not fully discussed Agrees to amend disclosure page
February 2011
CRTC #510987
Disclosure of throttling practices inadequate as effect of upload throttling not fully discussed Agrees to amend disclosure page
February 2011
CRTC #503207
Disclosure of throttling practices inadequate as effect of upload throttling not fully discussed Agrees to amend disclosure page
February 2011
CRTC #514192
Throttling renders service useless. Denied. Company provides disclosure and no evidence of non-compliant policies.
February 2011
CRTC #513298
Throttling of World of Warcraft online game. Leads to regular disconnection. Denied. Rogers says throttling practices have no effect on online gaming (later reverse)
Barrett Xplore
February 2011
CRTC #512810
Traffic management dramatic effect on services. Denied. No evidence of violation.
January 2011
CRTC #510718
Traffic shaping hurts some applications. Flash video very slow. Agrees to amend disclosure page.
December 2010
CRTC #505777
Rogers customer service providing conflicting information about throttling practices Acknowledges incorrect information provided by one representative.
November 2010
CRTC #504432
Throttling speeds for downloads from Admits error. Deep packet inspection technology mistakenly treating downloads as peer-to-peer traffic.  Promises to fix, but denies any violation of CRTC rules.
Telco Quadro Communications
October 2010
CRTC #502906
Change in traffic management practices. Denied. Practices ruled consistent with net neutrality guidelines.
Wind Mobile
September 2010
CRTC #494833
Port blocking restricts some uses and not properly disclosed. CRTC says disclosure inadequate. Agrees to amend disclosure page.
Wind Mobile
August 2010
CRTC #496185
Speed slowed after 5 GB of usage on all Internet traffic. Lack of disclosure on Fair Use Policy. CRTC says slowing usage of any time sensitive traffic would be a violation of ITMP rules or require CRTC approval. Says disclosure inadequate.
August 2010
CRTC #496562
Claim throttling speeds on xBox usage Rogers denies the claim.
Bruce Street Technologies
July 2010
CRTC #496016

Throttling traffic without disclosure. Admits throttling for brief period without disclosure. Subsequently dropped throttling practices.
July 2010
CRTC #494836
Problems with SIP (session initiation protocol) on Port 5060. Admits problem but argues it is not a traffic management issue.
July 2010
CRTC #496316
Traffic management policy overbroad Denied.
Barrett Xplore
June 2010
CRTC #494139
Bad service with slow speeds Outside the scope of ITMP policy.
March 2010
CRTC #482415
Traffic management policy involves throttling 24/7 Denied. CRTC asks complainant for more evidence of policy and harm.
March 2010
CRTC #486625
Throttling affecting corporate VPN connection Rogers policy says it does not affect VPN. Contact Rogers. If unsatisfied and you have evidence of rule violation, provide evidence for further consideration.
Barrett Xplore
January 2010
ExaTEL complains Barrett Xplore throttling renders Internet telephony unusable, creating an unfair advantage for its own voice telephone service. Traffic management policies not fully disclosed. CRTC rules not an undue preference since Barrett Xplore runs voice traffic on a separate circuit. Further rules that throttling violates rules for degrating time sensitive traffic and requires change to policy or application for CRTC approval. Barrett Xplore changes traffic management approach. CRTC also rules that dislosure insufficient. Barrett Xplore non-responsive until May 2011, when CRTC threatens to take the issue to a public proceeding.
December 2009
CRTC #475593
Bell throttling access to Denied. CRTC says Bell’s disclosure page does not reference site, so problem may lie with the site itself.
December 2009
CRTC #475351
Blocking Skype users from accessing BC numbers. Require Shaw account information before proceeding.


  1. Dissolve the CRTC
    Useless they are, useless they will continue to be.

    Class action? anyone?

  2. Rogers already blocking sites
    I can say for a fact that Rogers is already blocking sites via DNS. Any Rogers customers – try going to Again, a file sharing site, known for hosting all sorts of files including infringing content. Net neutrality is a complete joke as is the CRTC. With enforcement there are no rules in any regulatory system. Some of these practices, if done outside the digital domain, would be clearly anticompetitive and illegal.

  3. Here’s a forum thread on Roger’s blocking – they’ve now moved to blocking this specifically for iPhone/iPads (it is a common location for cracked software). Despite the possible content on this site, the ISPs are already secretly blocking sites with no disclosure.

  4. Lucas Wan says:

    Barrett Xplore
    Too bad about the CRTC #512810 decision. I guess all you have to do is get equipment with built in throttling, and then claim it is not throttling but equipment limitation…

  5. Fileape
    But with FileApe, it’s primary intent is file storage, not file sharing. That’s a far cry from comparing them to a site like Pirate Bay. Rogers is way off base on this one. In fact FileApe has an amusing, but very specific disclaimer.

    “Do not upload child pornography. Seriously — why are you into that stuff? What’s wrong with you? Get some help, now. Although we don’t store any information to “backtrace” you, we will reserve a special place in hell for you. We will remove this stuff IMMEDIATELY and ban your account.

    Do not upload copyright infringing files. These are annoying. We will get complaints and have to delete them within twenty-four hours, or we’ll be sued to death.”

    Try connecting directly using the IP rather “”…

  6. David Ellis says:

    Regulating through Access to Information requests
    Michael, you’ve outdone yourself. By getting this secretive information into the light of day, you’ve demonstrated very convincingly just how pointless the Commission’s “net neutrality” rules really are. Many (including me) were critical of the original decision for putting the burden on consumers to complain, using the ex post rather than ex ante framework. That was bad enough. But now we learn from your efforts that the Commission has made this bad thing far worse by a) placing the burden of proof on parties who are demonstrably incapable of digging up technical evidence to support their claims; and b) keeping the whole process secret, on the ridiculous grounds noted above that the Commission is worried mostly about the privacy rights of complainants.

    A point I’ve harped on many, many times: no one outside a tiny professional community has a clue how their access service works, what ITMPs are or what they have to do with net neutrality. It taks the better part of an academic year for my students to grasp basic concepts like bandwidth and common metrics like bits per second. Statistics Canada, one of the Commission’s “data partners,” has huge problems in formulating questions for its Internet Use surveys – because so many Canadians don’t even know if their own access service is high-speed or otherwise, let alone what traffic-shaping is.

    I’m dwelling on this point because a phone call to the CIUS folks at Stats Can could have been enough to make the Commission staff have serious doubts about an ex post framework for safeguarding neutrality. It’s heartening that the Commission is, as you note, looking at ways to make complaint information public. The barrier, however, isn’t individual privacy rights, which I’m sure most complainants would be happy to waive. Rather it’s the ease with which the licensees can persuade the regulator to keep certain information confidential, lest their business interests fall victim to unsavory publicity.

    And even if there is progress on the transparency front, that in itself will not help a single Canadian understand the mysteries of their local access cloud any better than they do now. That’s going to take a major effort on the digital literacy file, an area which the Chair has already characterized as someone else’s problem.

  7. Digital Literacy

    You’ve hit a large part of the problem on the head right there in those two words. Digital literacy is a huge problem. Most people don’t understand even the very basics and what’s worse is that they don’t care to or want to even try. Where I work, I’m an Oracle applications developer and I create forms and reports. The “users” look at developers in basically one way. Whether or not they can “speak user”. They respect you if you can speak user and don’t if you can’t.

    Place the burden of proof on such users not not only bad, it’s unfair. Even experienced users might be hard pressed to find tangible physical evidence for some of these claims since the ISP can always fall back and claim it’s the user’s hardware. Some of the claims could only be confirmed from withing the ISP through something like a 3rd-party audit.

    The CRTC is no less than digitally spitting in the face of those making claims.

  8. The CRTC needs Michael Geist
    I say we get a movement going to get Michael Geist to head the CRTC, that’s something i wouldn’t mind my tax dollars going towards. Great work Michael you’ve done it again!!

  9. the problem with itmp disclosure as the solution to net neutrality
    I’ve said it before and I will say it again, this whole concept that “net neutrality” is being met simply by disclosing what throttling an ISP is doing is entirely predicated on choice of providers.

    What the hell good does it do me to know that a given provider will not allow some form of traffic on their network when I have no choice but to use that given provider?

    This is just yet another symptom of the very serious problem of lack of choice in this country!

  10. Lack of Investigation
    There is clearly no investigation that goes on. The CRTC make themselves look like uneducated fools. #513298 clearly demonstrates this, the CRTC takes Rogers at their word and doesn’t investigate, Rogers is then later found to be incorrect, the CRTC then of course does…. NOTHING.

  11. Capital J says:

    Disclosure? Sort of…
    Many of the complaints say that the providers disclose their practices. While this may be true, their disclosure is often times buried so deep on their websites or in pages upon pages of legalese that it’s nearly impossible to find.

  12. You don’t cut off your arm because it is broken
    All this talk of disbanding the CRTC is idiocy. You only hear about the CRTC when they do dumbass shit. Just compare American broadcasting to Canadian and you can see how the CRTC helps Canada from descending into a pit of lowest-common-denominator crap.

    That said, politics has gotten into the CRTC – a pro-corporate class. Fix it.
    Would you really prefer these companies regulate themselves. No. Of course not. Just fix the regulator. Vote appropriately.

  13. How to bypass Rogers site blocking.
    To bypass Rogers site blocking, you need to change your network properties IP4 setting to use Open DNS IP:,
    More info at:

  14. Admits problem and promises to fix
    is not an acceptable resolution. Furthermore Konrad von Finkenstein should be forced to delver handwritten apologies to those who’s complaints were perfunctorily denied.

  15. Adam Antoszek-Rallo says:

    Not All Complaints
    I have been given the runaround myself with the CRTC, when I have called to ogive complaints. On more than one occasion, I was basically given the runaround and told that it was not really their jurisdiction to police, and did not take my complaint officially. I see here on this list that some of my complaints had been reported by others. Only once, *ever* have I received a follow-up from the CRTC to report back. In all other case it was like talking to a brick wall, and I was encouraged to speak to anyone but them.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Don’t you see, the CRTC got 34 complaints, from a population of millions. You’re all doing it wrong! Submit complaints. DROWN them with the stuff we’ve been complaining about since forever!


  17. ‘Privacy Concerns’ Trump Card
    I think that capitalists’ concern for ‘privacy rights’ is as genuine as their concern for ‘law and order’. I’d like to throttle their mafia capitalism let me tell you.

  18. Great Idea!
    Dnote: I like your idea but you’ve now given higher ups the heads up. 😉

  19. I agree with anonymous. As a university student, most of this Internet usage, net neutrality stuff is all new to me. But given the small amount of knowledge I do have about these issues, I don’t think it’s necessary for us citizens to complain to each other online. I think it is mandatory for us to complain directly to the CRTC, if they do not listen, then we need to take action on a different level. After all, this is supposed to be a democratic country

  20. onlline whine vs CRTC complaints
    There is a place for both. Obviously if you have a specific complaint, you should be doing so to the CRTC.

    But in the absence of transparency, you have no idea how many others have made the same complaint, and the results or lack thereof.

    There is also the issue of “knowledge”. Most people don’t have the knowledge to track down and isolate the specifics required to file a CRTC complaint. They just call their ISP, and end up accepting whatever response is supplied.
    If there was a transparent searchable tracking system for CRTC complaints, any unsatisfied user could find out if others, perhaps more knowledgeable, had found similar issues. Even add their names to the complaint and supply more information.

    The way things are set up, the CRTC is handling individual user complaints from users that probably don’t have the expertise to properly identify the issues. On the other hand, the system is intended to address issues applicable to all of an ISP’s customers. There is a disconnect.

    “Whining sessions”, triggered by someone filing an Access to Information request and posting the results, become the communication medium for many users.

    Ideally, the CRTC should be operating transparently. Even hosting blogs/postings, such as we see here, driven from received complaints. Bring reps from the ISP to communicate directly with knowledgeable users in full view of the rest of the observers – including CRTC observers. It would be an educational interaction, and it would tend to keep ISP’s very honest. I am sure there are “geeks” that would be willing to step forward and act as an ombudsman for users in such discussions.
    After all, this is a complaint *to* the CRTC *about* an ISP.

    The CRTC decision that came down effectively said;

    Do whatever you need to do to manage and maintain your (the ISP) network(s), but you have to:
    a) justify those practices, even to the time of day.
    b) be open and honest about all those practices.

    The complaint processes used by the CRTC should follow the same principles. Open and honest interchange, monitored by the CRTC for regulatory compliance.
    As a network geek, I felt the original policy decision was very fair. But it lacks proper tracking/enforcement. With modern technology it can be set up very easily, even modeled on this same blog style/software (although there are better ones for that purpose).

  21. James Plotkin says:

    CRTC = broken arm and digital literacy
    “You don’t cut off your arm because it is broken”

    Agreed, disbanding the CRTC over their obvious inefficacy isn’t the answer. I also agree with those who made the point on digital literacy. I’ve always said that if people were a little more savvy on internet matters UBB would never have had a chance to erupt into such a problem.

    I’m convinced that people, upon learning the real facts about broadband and the actual “toll” downloading and such takes on a network, would be outraged when they realize what bandwidth caps really are, a revenue stream.

    Failing proper action from the CRTC and the Gov., I wish the telecoms would at least call overage charges what they are, a way to increase profit. There isn’t anything inherently evil about charging people based on their usage. It is particularly deplorable (and horrible business practice) to lie profusely to your customers, swearing up and down that when they go over their cap they’re harming you and that they need to be punished.

    Shame on them…

  22. @IamMe
    I suggest you have a look at the ITMP policy. I’ll quote section 48 here for your convenience:

    “In order for the Commission to evaluate a complaint regarding an ITMP applied to retail Internet services, the complainant should provide evidence and rationale as to why the ITMP does not meet the requirements of the ITMP framework. The Commission notes that the burden of establishing that an ITMP discriminates or results in a preference or disadvantage is on the complainant. However, pursuant to subsection 27(4) of the Act, the burden of establishing that any such discrimination, preference, or disadvantage is not unjust, undue, or unreasonable is on the primary ISP whose ITMP is under review. Accordingly, the primary ISP will be expected to demonstrate, in its response to the complaint, why its ITMP meets the requirements of the framework.”

    This means that the onus is on the complainant to provide examples of what is wrong. The ISP is required to prove that this does not violate.

    As an Oracle applications developer, you must have encountered bug reports of the form “this doesn’t work” which don’t specify any more detail than that; if you haven’t you are extremely lucky. In the case of 526400, and I suspect some of the others here, that was the jist of the complaint. If someone is going to make a complaint then they at least need to provide examples of what and when. Why is not required (at least according to my reading of the policy).

  23. @Anon-K
    “As an Oracle applications developer, you must have encountered bug reports of the form “this doesn’t work” which don’t specify any more detail than that”

    This is indeed true. And we do require users to give specific, non-technical details, such as date and time, what they were trying to do, what data they were entering and any error(s) received. However, we don’t expect them to understand the inner workings of the application(s) and/or the database. AND, we’re NOT allowed to simply dismiss them. We can push back for more information, but the trouble ticket remains open until it resolved to the satisfaction of the user.

    The problem is worse, when it comes to consumers and ISPs since when a user is having performance problems, quite often the ISP will simply say “It must be your computer” without acknowledging there might be issues. The WoW complaints proves that. Rogers knew damn well they were throttling WoW and consistently lied about it until it came to a head. They should have been fined heavily for this…per offense.

    For 526400, this is easy to test using applications such as and known throttling targets such as Bittorrent. Pick any well-seeded torrent which “should” be able to max out your connection easily, Linux Ubuntu for instance, which I can download at over 2M/s at work, and the throttling will be obvious.

    As an example, saying WoW is running slow or disconnecting is as technical as some of these people can possibly get. I know where the onus lies, but “should” this onus be placed on the average user? Is it fair to require average users to have such knowledge?

  24. mckracken says:

    the suggestion that the complainant must provide all evidence of wrongdoing in a nontransparent technical situation such as this, is akin to having someone who can state ‘these dice are loaded because my xray vision allows me to see that the density of the plastic is lopsided and favour the house’ to the crtc.

    there’s a load here somewhere, that’s for sure…

  25. XPLORNET – Warning to Editors

    “statements made in Mr. Geist’s original article omit material information”

  26. Vonage
    Been a happy Vonage user until I had the bad idea to switch to Rogers. Then my Vonage phone started to stutter. When finally Teksavvy came to the area, I switched to their equivalent on the same cable. All the problem went away and my Vonage phone works happily again. This should not happen in a properly regulated market.

  27. crtc is BULL SSSS
    The CRTC should be politicized. Give it to a minister who cares about what the canadian public thinks, instead of the wolves looking after the sheep. What is ostensibly a depoliticized, arms length group staffed by technocrats, is really a bunch of ex-telco cronies who care about Bell and Rogers and not internet users. When the PMO caught wind that UBB was unpopular, the policy changed. The CRTC needs more political involvement. They have done a terrible job on their own.

  28. Disbanding the CRTC isnt an option
    People who have made glib statements like the CRTC should be dissolved, need to elaborate on what happens next. The responsibilities of the CRTC wont vanish, someone will be doing the job of looking after our Radio and Telecommunications. The question is what institutional and structural factors have led to this inefficient, and obstructionist situation, and how they can be reformed to better respond to the needs of Canadians. Id like to see them become a liberalizing force, opening up markets to greater competition, and playing referee to make it a fair playing field

  29. Interesting
    will read some of these PDFs later, surprised to see a TekSavvy complaint, will read this too.