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CRTC Embarrassed By FCC Net Neutrality Actions?

Phillip Dampier September 22, 2009 Canada, Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Recent Headlines, Video No Comments
Professor Geist

Professor Geist

The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, the Canadian equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, may be forced to consider American broadband policy before defining Net Neutrality and its role in Canadian broadband, according to an article published today in The Globe & Mail.

[FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s] proposal – to codify and enforce some general principles of “Net neutrality” – comes as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is expected to release its own position this fall, after public consultations this summer that prompted feedback from tens of thousands of Canadians.

“The kinds of principles that the FCC is now looking to put into rules are precisely what the CRTC heard from many groups this past summer,” said Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. “The kinds of concerns that Canadians have been expressing have clearly been taken to heart by the FCC.”

Many Canadian citizens have been unhappy with the CRTC after a summer of hearings and policy decisions which have almost universally-favored Canadian broadband providers’ positions.  The CRTC seemed skeptical during hearings over the urgency to enforce Net Neutrality protections and stop provider’s throttling of peer to peer networks.  But consumers were even more upset when the Commission agreed with Bell, Canada’s largest phone company and wholesale broadband provider, and allowed the company to impose “usage based billing (UBB)” (Internet Overcharging) on wholesale buyers — primarily independent Internet Service Providers.  Canadian customers attempting to avoid usage caps and consumption billing relied on more generous policies from independent providers, policies likely to be revoked with the imposition of UBB, potentially making flat rate broadband service in Canada largely extinct.

In general terms, Net neutrality refers to the concept that access to all legal content on the Internet should be equal. The concept often comes up in relation to the practice of “bandwidth throttling,” where ISPs limit the transfer speed of certain kinds of data – such as the transfer of large movie files between users – but not other kinds.

Many large Canadian ISPs have argued that network management doesn’t affect Net neutrality, and taking away an ISP’s ability to manage its network results in worse service for a large number of customers.

Currently, there is no uniform practice among large ISPs in Canada when it comes to network management. Some firms throttle bandwidth during certain times of the day, whereas other limit bandwidth all the time, or not at all. A CRTC ruling this fall could go a long way toward implementing a uniform code for all ISPs.

“In light of what we’ve seen today, [the CRTC ruling] will be particularly telling because the benchmark now isn’t just what the CRTC heard during this hearing, the benchmark now is our neighbours to the south,” Prof. Geist said. “The CRTC will in many ways be measured up against what the FCC is doing in the U.S.”

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