The great Canadian net neutrality debate

For the past three days (and continuing into next week) the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission has been holding hearing on net neutrality in Canada.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet use should be free from any restrictions from the service providers.

Essentially one use of the Internet (checking e-mail for example) should not intentionally be made faster than another, like watching a video.

Over the past three days, there have been many submissions before the CRTC but the main sticking point has been throttling and traffic shaping.

During the first day of the hearings, Sandvine Incorporated and Juniper Networks, two companies specializing in traffic management, made the case for traffic shaping, arguing the practice can bring better service to consumers by slowing down the few Internet users that are hogging the most bandwidth, along with blocking malicious traffic like spam. 

However, other submissions were very much against the practice., who’ve recently announced that it will bring legal streaming videos to Canadians, argued that traffic shaping could impact their ability to deliver online video to consumers at acceptable speeds.

The submission also noted that the major ISPs are also providing video-on-demand service and any bandwidth rules put in place should also apply to their own services, otherwise it is unfair.

This, of course, gets into the issue of competition.

While there are smaller ISPs available in Canada, they still buy their bandwidth wholesale from the larger providers.

For example, in Ontario, the majority of independent DSL providers buy their bandwidth from Bell, who admit to throttling. 

On day three, MTS Allstream decried the practice and in a submission, stated that ISPs should not be throttling at the wholesale level.

Finally, there was much to say about what is often viewed as the big-bad villain of the Internet: peer-to-peer networks.

Peer-to-peer (or P2P) networks allows users downloading the same file to share pieces of that file with each other, essentially spreading the bandwidth around, making the transmission of large files more efficient.

However, ISPs have claimed that heavy usage of the protocol puts a heavy load on the networks and this is why it is often the main application to get throttled.

Plus, it is frequently used to distribute pirated material.

That said, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (among other content creators) submitted that the platform can be used for the efficient transfer of legal material and provides independent artists a low-cost distribution network with a high reach.

The hearings will continue until July 13th.

For more information on the hearings, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist has been providing lengthy daily summaries of the hearings on his blog.

For even more, see the full transcripts of the hearings on the CRTC web site.