Net neutrality: Is competition the answer?

Yesterday, I summed up the net neutrality hearings currently be held by the Canadian Radio Telecommunication Commission so far.

But as the hearings continue, there’s one theme that has been really sticking out to me: the need for competition. 

A lot of focus has been put on consumers who don’t Internet service providers slowing down their preferred applications like BitTorrent but would regulations to stop the practice really be necessary if there was true competition?

As it stands right now, a few large companies have control over the infrastructure that makes up the Internet and smaller ISPs have to buy wholesale access from them.

For example, in Ontario, most small DSL providers are buying wholesale bandwidth from Bell. Now Bell has admitted to using traffic-shaping and throttling, even at the wholesale level.

So even  if a consumer feels they’re not getting the Internet service they’re paying for because their ISP is intentionally slowing down online video, it doesn’t matter if they switch. The smaller competitor’s service is still throttled, regardless of whether the smaller company wants it to be or not.

Preventing traffic shaping at the wholesale level would allow smaller ISPs to decide on their own what kind of controls should be in place and even offer a completely open network with no restrictions.

Consumers would then have a real choice and if neutral networks truly are important, most would abandon the ISPs who are throttling and implementing bandwidth caps for the competition, which would in theory force the larger providers to reassess their policies.

Of course, for this to happen, the CRTC would need to step in and stop the practice of applying traffic shaping to wholesale customers. The Canadian Association of Internet Providers has tried in the past to get the CRTC to do just that but were unsuccessful.

Time will tell the current round of hearings will change any minds.