This past week the country's biggest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) paraded in front of the CRTC as part of that commission's inquiry into bandwidth throttling.
To listen to the ISPs, you'd think their biggest problem was wrestling with the complexities of an increasingly congested Internet. But it's not. Their biggest problem is that more and more Canadians think they're lying sacks of shite.
Sure, as a recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll found, only about one in five Canadians surveyed had heard of Internet traffic management bandwidth throttling, deep packet inspection or net neutrality.
And the ISPs are fueling (and counting on) that ignorance as they spread FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt) at the hearings.
But, in happy counterpoint, just look at the comments on the CBC website's coverage of the hearings. One poster used all caps to sum up the overarching attitude of the commentators about the ISP testimony:
"WE DON'T BELIEVE YOU."
I have to say, that's a pretty rational response. Big ISPs here in Canada and the U.S. have lied to us before. In the U.S. Comcast denied throttling the bandwidth of users using P2P file sharing. Well denied it until they got caught red-handed and were facing a slapdown by the FCC.
At the CRTC hearings last week Rogers and Telus argued that they had no choice but to continually throttle consumer and wholesale customers' bandwidth because of unpredictable network congestion due to P2P filesharing. And, they didn't need any government oversight over that process, thanks very much.
Now, maybe to the four-fifths of Canadians who aren't paying attention to this stuff that sounds reasonable. But, here's the thing. These are the same companies (along with Bell) who two years ago denied, flat out denied, they were doing any throttling at all. Turns out they were lying then and glibly spun a fresh tale of woe to a Canadian commission and public it hoped would have too short an attention span to notice.
Worse, the notion that they have to throttle to deal with network congestion is an interesting argument. Why? Because it follows then that the tubes of the Internet must be pretty clogged and are having a hard time dealing with high bandwidth content like, say, HD video.
So, it is passing strange that just before the CRTC hearings, Rogers Television exec Dave Purdy told a NextMEDIA audience in Banff that Rogers hoped to roll out online access to Rogers broadcast properties.
He also expressed the hope that Bell and others could work together on the initiative. So, what about the congestion problem?
How is it that music, movies, x-rays and other user content clogging the Web like a hairball but ISP content is going to be a great new service that will slide into your home like grease through a goose?
ISP brass argue that Peer-to-Peer is inherently an inefficient file transfer protocol (efficient for end users, not so great for the network). They favour creating a network of distributed local nodes that would serve up the same content repeatedly if folks in the node's neighbourhood asked for it. This is the strategy AOL used to roll out its service.
However the EU has gotten behind the P2P Next project that uses peer-to-peer as the central protocol for sharing high bandwidth files between wired Europeans. So, they must know something Canadian ISPs don't.
The reality here in Canada is clear. ISPs want to crack down on P2P with gay abandon and no government oversight because they don't want to invest in bringing the Web's substantial bandwidth into Canadians' homes (our bandwidth up and down looks like dialup speeds compared to that in Japan, several European countries and parts of the U.S.)
And much of mainstream media is adding and abetting. Take this statement from a Canadian Press story about the hearings: "Rogers, for example, uses complex technology to analyze what kinds of communications users are engaged in -- sharing a Hollywood movie vs. sending e-mail, for example -- and then "throttles" or slows down certain activities so the rest of its network moves faster."
In fact, Rogers just looks for P2P traffic and throttles that, regardless of whether the P2P is legitimate content the users own or not. If Rogers had "complex technology" that could accurately sniff out Hollywood movies from the jumble of encrypted files that flow through the Web and was employing it to dig that deep into the packets it carries, CP has a bigger story on its hands. As it is, they're just aping ISP PR speak that equates P2P with illegal file sharing. Not helpful.
The sad truth is that Instead of bringing Canadians open modern access the ISPs want to use the bandwidth their infrastructure will bear to deliver their own content. They want to own the content, the pipes and the customers.
They can tell Canadians and the CRTC different, but I don't believe them.
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