Net Neutrality Enforcement Put to the Test

The enforcement of Canada’s net neutrality rules, which govern how Internet providers manage their networks, was in the spotlight earlier this year when documents obtained under the Access to Information Act revealed virtually all major Canadian ISPs have been the target of complaints, but there have been few, if any, consequences arising from the complaints process.

The documents painted a discouraging picture, with multiple complaints against Rogers Communications due to the throttling of online games going seemingly nowhere, while a complaint against satellite Internet provider Xplorenet languished for months until the Commission threatened to launch a public proceeding.

In the aftermath of document disclosures, my weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes there has been slow but steady change. 

In September, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the agency that established and enforces the net neutrality rules (known as Internet traffic management guidelines) issued a new advisory on responding to complaints and enforcing the rules.

The best aspect of the advisory was a commitment to publish quarterly reports featuring a summary of the number and types of complaints it has received, including the number of active and resolved complaints. Moreover, any findings of non-compliance will be published on the Commission’s website and will include the Internet provider’s name and the nature of the complaint.

While the move toward greater transparency is welcome and an important step in pressuring Internet providers to comply with the guidelines, the changes will only really matter if the CRTC steps up its enforcement activity.  

On the enforcement front, it appears the Commission is prepared to adopt a more muscular approach. Rogers will be the first Internet provider to face enforcement actions, the result of painstakingly detailed complaint over the throttling of online games (thereby rendering some unusable) by the Canadian Gamers Organization.

The dispute over Rogers’ practices have dragged on for months even as one international report found that the cable giant is the world’s most aggressive user of throttling technologies. The Commission dismissed several early complaints after Rogers provided assurances that it had fixed any concerns. Yet the CGO continued to investigate the effect of Rogers throttling practices, using the results to contest Rogers’ claims and file additional complaints.

Late last month, the CRTC advised both parties that it was sending the matter to its enforcement branch for further action. The move sends a clear signal that the Commission is no longer content to allow Internet providers to adopt a whack-a-mole approach that involves temporary fixes that fail that to address the more fundamental problem that their traffic management technologies are seemingly unable to comply with Commission requirements.

If the Commission is serious about enforcement, the Rogers case will only be the beginning. Bell recently advised its wholesale Internet provider customers that it was dropping its throttling practices, citing reduced network congestion from peer-to-peer file sharing.

The Bell advisory raises the prospect that the company’s current retail throttling practices may now violate the CRTC’s guidelines. While Bell says its network congestion has been reduced, its retail throttling practices have remained unchanged, throttling peer-to-peer applications from 4:30 pm to 2:00 am.  

Given the decline in congestion, a CRTC complaint might ask whether the current throttling policy “results in discrimination or preference as little as reasonably possible” and ask for explanation why its data cap policies “would not reasonably address the need and effectively achieve the same purpose as the ITMP.” Moreover, Bell is hardly the only Canadian ISP that has justified its traffic management practices on network congestion from peer-to-peer traffic, raising the possibility of further enforcement actions.

The CRTC still requires tougher penalty power – it does not have the power to levy financial penalties for net neutrality violations – but the outcome of the Rogers case will send a strong signal on whether the Commission is now serious about enforcing net neutrality rules in Canada.


  1. Good on you! Keep the heat on!

  2. Nothing will change untill the gov forces media companies to not be able to offer network access. You want to be an ISP well you can’t offer tv or other services that depend on the network.

  3. @end user
    I totally agree with that. I find that the big incumbents are in a huge conflict of interest. Not only with that you are mentioning, but with the fact that they rent out ISP bandwidth to competition.

    So, not only should they either pick ISP or TV/other services, but they should also pick ISP retain OR ISP wholesale, not both.

  4. The issue now is they’ve been allowed to become so monolithic that to force functional separation now would throw Canada in to chaos. I don’t see any easy way out of the hole our governments of the last 15 years, or so, have allowed us to dig. Personally, I think forcing functional separation and opening the market for competition is the only solution, but the big incumbents have a lot of money that says there’s nothing wrong with the current system. Our government is simply too afraid to stand up to the giants. All the while, Canada falls further and further behind the rest of the world technologically, while at the same time the big incumbents rake in record profits, so obscene that it should be considered gouging.

  5. @IamME
    Don’t forget the incumbents are scooping up all the news networks too… These are powerful tools that can sway public opinion on key issues – essentially giving them more control then I like of who votes for who!

  6. Something interesting has come up. CRTC now allowing for interventions. It was CGO and myself personally that tried to intervene on several cases before the CRTC. I/we were only able to successfully intervene in one case which was the World of Warcraft case. This will give advocates the ability to voice their opinions when needed on CRTC complaints. Glad they are implementing this much needed change to policy:

    “In this bulletin, the Commission announces that parties may coordinate interventions in support of their position and file joint supporting interventions in the context of telecommunications proceedings, and sets out a covering letter template for this purpose.”

  7. according to Mark Cuban, video over the web will become a 7 trillion dollar a year business. 20% of all money spent on TV advertising has moved to the web in the past 12 months! So what Rogers, Bell and others are doing is conditioning dsl users to accept less in order for preserve space for TV over the web – which will even stronger this year. And they will likely use a form of Peer to Peer video true streaming. So congestion doesn’t exist right now – the BOYS are simply sending their half backs , blocking down field – creating a path for the quarterback to prance down field later.

  8. iweballey solutions
    I totally agree with that. I find that the big incumbents are in a huge conflict of interest. Not only with that you are mentioning, but with the fact that they rent out ISP bandwidth to competition.

    So, not only should they either pick ISP or TV/other services, but they should also pick ISP retain OR ISP wholesale, not both.