Net Neutrality Finally Rears Ugly Head in Canada

At one time, Canada was among the world leaders in Internet access, ranking second beyond South Korea in broadband penetration.

Those days now seem like a distance memory as Canada moves ever closer to becoming a second-tier online country that discourages innovation.

Case in point is network neutrality, a debate that has raged in the U.S. but has been ignored or shoved under the carpet by the federal government and regulators in Canada. Either no wants to discuss net neutrality or it’s ignored. Meanwhile, the two largest ISPs in Canada – Bell and Rogers – are openly throttling and shaping broadband traffic all in the name of “managing” their networks.

Canada’s Industry Minister, Jim Prentice, said recently he would prefer to see consumers deal with their complaints against Bell and Rogers as opposed to the federal government getting involved. That’s inspiring leadership given the Internet has not only become a quasi-public utility but a key pillar for innovation and economic development.

Meanwhile, Rogers, Bell, Telus and other broadband providers are racking up bigger profits while hiking prices and treating bandwidth as a scare resource by shaping/throttling traffic and introducing bandwidth caps. In other words, they’re creating artificial scarcity – something Mike Masnick could explain better than I.

What’s particularly sad and ironic about the federal government’s approach to Net Neutrality are two key developments:

1. In 2005, Rogers and Bell were allowed to purchase Inukshuk – a nation-wide wireless broadband network. By approving the deal, the federal government removed the possibility for consumers to have more competition and choice. Ironically, the federal government is currently trying to introduce competition and choice in the wireless market after letting the fourth national carrier, Microcell, be acquired by the leading carrier, Rogers, in 2004.

2. The CRTC, the federal telecom and media regulator, recently said it will start to explore the idea of regulating the Internet (Ha!) after deciding in 1999 that it was not going to regulate the Internet. If you want to encourage innovation, economic growth and productivity, regulating the Internet is a joke unless your goal is to create bureaucracy, policy and opportunities for lobbyists.

For all the talk about the federal government encouraging the technology sector, the sad truth is it isn’t doesn’t truly walk the walk when it comes to encouraging innovation.

More: The government and Mr. Prentice may have to acknowledge the Net Neutrality issue sooner rather than later in the wake of the NDP MP Charlie Angus (a former rock musician) introducing a private members bill, C-552, earlier this week that would:

“prohibit network operators from engaging in network management practices that favour, degrade or prioritize any content, application or service transmitted over a broadband network based on its source, ownership or destination, subject to certain exceptions.”

As well, there was a public rally earlier this week on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. You can learn more about how to support Net Neutrality at SaveOurNet.

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  • Jim

    OK so your point #2 implies that you don’t want the government to regulate the internet, but your opening paragraphs suggest you do want them to set regulations to enforce net neutrality. Which is it?

  • Mark Evans

    That’s a good point – and a flaw in my thesis. I guess I’m looking for a happy balance where the Internet is allowed to thrive with some, but not a lot, of government oversight given its importance as a social and economic engine. Granted, it’s a fine balancing act but the more it’s discussed, the better chance of coming up with something that works.

  • Wayne

    When you talk about the ISPs throttling traffic I assume you are referring to Bittorrent and other similar services. But Charlie Angus’ bill, or at least what you quote above, doesn’t read as if it would prevent throttling Bittorrent since I don’t believe the reason to throttle is based on “source, ownership or destination” it is based on the type of traffic.

  • Beth

    Net neutrality what about FALSE ADVERTISING cough LYING. I hope the class action suit against Bell teaches them a lesson by hurting their pocket book. See

    My brother canceled his Sympatico account and switched to a company who wasn’t throttling and it was cheaper. Too bad I can’t remember their name.

  • jules

    Hey there Mark – I don’t know that you want to paint TELUS with the same brush as Bell and Rogers – they haven’t done any traffic shaping on either consumer or wholesale internet services.


  • rogers is killing innovation

    ISPs are recording record profits and the consumers in Canada are suffering…it feels like we are living in the 3rd world with Rogers as our dictator, seen your Rogers wireless bell this month yet?

  • Jim

    Comment on Jules’ comment above: To me Telus was the worst offender – they actually blocked some of their customers from viewing websites which they didn’t want them to see (in this case their customers were their own striking employees – but nevertheless Telus’s actions were rediculous.)

  • matt roberts

    Jules – Telus is traffic shaping and back in 2005 they effectively started the Net Neutrality debate by blocking websites related to workers that were on strike against it.

    Mark – Inukshuk is probably the silliest example you could have chosen. It never got anywhere before it was purchased – the group was going to invest what about $135-million to build a nation-wide network? please.

    Also, calling it a ‘nation wide’ anything is a bit much – when purchased, it serviced perhaps 3 small areas. Craig McCaw, probably the only person in North America who would create a company like this, gave up on it precisely because the WiMAX technology he wanted to use has taken for ever to mature. EVen he’s partnered with Sprint to make this come about in the US. It just never would have flown, neither MTS nor Allstream had the depth to make it happen. This has nothing to do with Net Neutrality. Just plain old economics.

  • jules

    Hey there Matt and Jim – there’s a fairly significant difference between traffic shaping and blocking the DNS for a specific site ;-) I think hind-sight is 2020 with regards to the TELUS decision to block DNS and the backlash surrounding the union websites access.


  • Josep

    Hi there,

    What about private regulation led by WIPO and national author right holders organisations that the more and more are cutting internet up into pieces? you cannot access hulu, bbc’s iplayer, pandora, etc…


  • darren

    standard economic theory suggets that government intervention is required in scenarios of market failure, or a non efficient market … setting aside the specific contextual reason for their existence in this case, oligopolies are one manifestation of market failure … in the case of Bell and Rogers having virtual domination over the last mile is tantamount to market failure and therefore justifies a level of government intervention to ward of the potential for future abuses. At its heart it’s no different than the economic anecdote of the public park.

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