Well, the last couple of weeks have been a good news/bad news seesaw ride for those of us in the Canadian bandwidth throttling/copyright playground.

As you may recall, last month the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) filed a complaint against Bell-Sympatico with CRTC. The group represents 55 smaller Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Those ISPs resell Bell bandwidth to their customers, many of whom make legitimate use of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. Other Canadian carriers, including Rogers, also throttle P2P traffic. CAIP wanted the CRTC to provide immediate relief from Bell’s bandwidth throttling of P2P traffic because that throttling was effecting the ISPs own customers and making it impossible to deliver the service the ISPs promised. The complaint was supported by more than 1,000 complaints from individual Canadians.

In mid-May the CRTC decided not to offer CAIP interim or immediate relief from throttling. Instead, it launched a public inquiry into the throttling issue. CAIP and Bell-Sympatico both have until May 29 to give the CRTC comments for the inquiry. The rest of us have until June 21 to respond.

This could be great news, although many organizations, including The National Union of Public and General Employees, greeted the lack of interim relief as a bad sign. Basically the CRTC is saying to Bell: “Prove it.” Prove that your network is so congested throttling is necessary. Or, prove that throttling is the best or only solution to alleged network problems. So far, all we’ve had is Bell’s say-so. And, in North America carriers have been notoriously careless with the truth when it comes to their networks and what they’re doing with them.

For example, on the bad news side of the seesaw, the U.S. carrier Comcast has recently claimed it only blocks P2P traffic during peak hours. In fact, a new study by the Max Planck Institute for SoftwareSystems demonstrates that the carrier blocks P2P all through the day. And, previously carriers including Bell and Comcast denied they were throttling or blocking P2P file sharing at all. These folks aren’t to be trusted. So, it’s great that they’ll have to provide evidence. It’s also a positive sign that the CRTC is taking this issue seriously.

On the Canadian Copyright Act front, the seesaw is dipping to the dark side. According to University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, Industry Minister Jim Prentice could try to introduce the new copyright bill just before the end of this session of parliament, in about two weeks. This despite Prentice’s suggestions that he is keen on consumer input.

Geist thinks the bill Prentice may introduce will contain a few consumer-friendly changes but that they will be lipstick on a pig called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that has, over the past decade, been a disaster in the U.S. (You can email Prentice at Prentice.J[at]parl.gc.ca or Minister.Industry[at]ic.gc.ca to let him know how you feel about that.)

I spoke with Geist this week in Toronto and he’s optimistic about the CRTC’s interest in the throttling issue. “Either the CRTC steps in and takes action or it decides it can’t regulate. If it can’t regulate then it goes to the political arena.” Either way, Geist thinks, the issue has gotten far more attention than it would have otherwise. I agree. Getting the CRTC’s attention on this is probably Bell’s worst nightmare. Good.

And, if you’re in the mood for some more active activism, you can join in on a net neutrality rally that’s been called on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 27.

Net neutrality and bandwidth throttling are very closely related. The more control carriers have over how, how fast and if data is transferred, the less neutral the Web becomes and a non-neutral Web hurts average Canadians. So does a Copyright Act that takes away our basic consumer rights when content turns digital.

These issues matter, which is why I keep writing about it. In a world where carriers call all the shots it wouldn’t be a given that you could read it.


Wayne MacPhail

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years. He was the managing editor of Hamilton Magazine and was a reporter and editor at The Hamilton Spectator until he founded Southam InfoLab,...