The Roots of Net Neutrality Rules in Canada

Lost amid the 129 recommendations of the Telecom Review Panel's long-awaited report, which was released earlier this week were a few paragraphs about net neutrality – but they could be the foundation for a much-needed policy that Canada's telecom regulator – the CRTC – has yet to address. Here's some of the text from the recommendation:
“The report notes that there is growing concern that increasingly deregulated telecommunications service providers could, for strategic reasons decide to block or limit access to some Internet applications and content. Therefore, the panel recommends that the Telecommunications Act should confirm the right of Canadian consumers to access publicly available Internet applications and content by means of all public telecommunications networks that provide access to the Internet…..The panel believes telecommunications service providers, in most cases, have little or no incentive to interfere with customer access. However, the principle to open access to the Internet is sufficiently important that it justifies a new regulatory provision to ensure that it is maintained.”
  Granted, this is just one recommendation that's short on details and long on wishing thinking but at least someone is recognizing the importance of net neutrality. If this is just the start of a more comprehensive, detailed public discussion, then the panel will have done its job. Does it strike anyone as strange that the net neutrality issue is red-hot in the U.S. while it's still lurking in the bushes in Canada? Maybe it's because the Canadian carriers such as Bell and Telus have not been has aggressive about implementing downstream tollgates or prioritization fees – other than Shaw and its mysterious $10/month QoS “enhancement” fee that improves the quality of non-Shaw VoIP services such as Vonage. Vonage, by the way, recently filed a complaint with the CRTC so maybe this will be the spark needed to put net neutrality on the front burner.

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  • Colin

    Mark .. Excellent analysis to dig this out of the report. While I accept its good (essential!) to promote the concept of net neutrality, I worry about how that support from the CRTC will be manifested.
    Example: The concept of 'Canadian content' was also a good one, but this resulted in terrible rules, and programming outcomes, that few would argue made Canadian culture stronger.

  • Anonymous

    There is more about what the report says on Net Neutrality together with an increasingly active set of comments written on Mark Goldberg's blog.
    Interesting that some of the same people who advocate keeping the government away from interfering with the growth of the internet are the same ones asking the government to put controls on the carriers.

  • Rob Hyndman

    What's very interesting about this is what the Panel didn't say. While some are already asserting that the Panel is supporting the idea of neutrality, I don't really see anything to support that. The Panel is saying that carriers should not be able to block content – and nothing more. It is, quite literally, the least they could have done.
    Politically, prohibiting the blocking of content is a safe choice – everyone agrees that content is good, and that Canadians shouldn't be prevented by carriers from accessing content. Content good, blocking bad. There have been a few high profile cases of blocking, and now, we can all agree that there shouldn't be any more. OK, we've got it.
    Except, that's not the issue. The carriers have been trying very hard in the States to convince people that it is the issue – the better to deflect attention from the actual issue, which is whether duopolies ought to be able to tell us how we use the internet. The real issue raises questions like – can they decide who gets to be fast, and who must be slow; who gets to be cheap and who will be expensive; whose service will be spotty, and whose will have excellent QoS? These are exquisitely difficult questions, and my initial impression is that the Panel punted and played safe.
    What's also notable to me about the Panel report is that it so accurately toes the Kevin Martin and U.S. carrier line: carriers would never block, why would they block, there's no reason to suspect that they would block, so we don't need a rule stating that they can't block; when there as here the actual issue is not blocking, it's tiering. See, eg.:
    And so, it appears that they've chosen to play safe and wait to see what happens in the U.S. Politically, it's easy to portray the issue as one about “regulating the internet” (honestly, how facile can you get, but this will play well during the CBC dinner hour), and this allows you to avoid making any difficult decisions – particularly when the Government changes mid-report.
    I'm not saying neutrality is an easy issue to address. Reasonable people can disagree on the policy choices. But there ought to be a debate – not attempts to sweep it all under the carpet by pretending that the issue is simple – eg, are puppies nice? Is it nice to be nice. Yes, we understand, content good, blocking bad. Fire, GOOD!
    So, who wins? My first impression is that it's a big win for the incumbents – i) dismantle the regulatory framework, ii) give the broadband duopolies free rein. What will come out of it – if implemented – is managed competition in which the incumbents notionally compete on the basis of service, do not compete on price, and innovate only as little as they need to to avoid disturbing the market balance between them. The last thing the duopoly wants is to create a market expectation of vigorous price and quality competition. Much better for them to take it slowly.
    Additionally, application providers would face the difficult reality of having – as their principal supplier of access to their customers – a duopoly consisting of their competition, and they will find themselves constantly being interfered with, using all means available, short of actual blocking (content good, blocking bad), that the carriers can use while not provoking too much public and regulatory concern.
    Nice business if you can get it.

  • Anonymous

    There is inherent doublespeak in the Canadian recommendation. The CRTC believes that there is no incentive to interfere with customer access, yet they believe that regulation is necessary to protect against nonexistent problems. There is lots of talk about controlling the internet. However, if would behoove everyone to let the internet go through its natural progression without government interference. Regulation may become necessary down the road if certain service providers become discriminatory, but until that day, hold off on unnecessary regulation.

  • Anonymous

    It is interesting to see the contrast between the politics of net neutrality in the U.S. vs. elsewhere, including Canada. And it is heating up south of the border, as I've blogged on my own site.
    It seems that telecoms and cable companies are taking the position that a “no blockage” pledge is enough to protect the Internet as it is. I doubt it. Bandwidth is not infinite, and segrating some of it for a premium fast lane would surely impact the rest of it, which will be increasingly crowded with traffic. But the politics in Washington are such that telecoms both speak loudly and carry big sticks.

  • Anonymous

    Ultimately, the question I ask myself is this:
    Do I prefer to have the government regulate the Internet, or the big corporations?
    Frankly, the government is at least nominally responsible to the populace, whereas the big corporations are only responsible to their accountants and shareholders. I prefer to have our government step in and establish a system preventing content and QoS manipulation. Sure, it may open doors to other forms of government regulation, but to give the corporations free reign to mess around seems the greater of the two evils.

  • Anonymous

    This is a far cry from anything useful. Net neutrality is about QoS not just censorship; though both are occuring. Its about cartel like activity and massive conflicts of interest.
    There is a petition you can get involved with at
    If you look at the american debate; even the opposition to neutrality (hands off the internet or whatever) are using phrases like ” and those things happened in _Canada_” when referring to the cited net neutrality issues.
    It is in fact, Canada that has the problems with neutrality on the internet not only the us. Something must be done if we are going to have a competative marketplace for canadian internet companies. Otherwise, development in canada will be analogous with how cellular/mobile data innovation is occuring with the telecoms and cable companies; and that would be a massive failure with everyone being expected to kick-up to the telecoms for rights to access their subscribers. One need only look at the state of canadian cellular-application development to see how important net neutrality really is.
    To think that theres not a problem and that regulation is premature; violations are happening now and they need to be corrected. CEO's of the major telecom's are waxing poetic about their new tiers of service and yes, the internet is at risk of losing its frontier style freedom.
    So act, and demand that CRTC does the same. With solid, clear and defined net neutrality legislation.