How Bell and CBC Ignited Network Neutrality Debate in Canada

There has been a lot of talk about network neutrality in Canada these days.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The debate started out as a quiet whisper when Rogers started throttling BitTorrent, but now the debate has gone from chilled to hot – and now, it has intensified over the past few days.

It’s amazing how far one posting can go. The intensity of the debate quickly increased when someone mentioned that Teksavvy, an internet company who disagrees with throttling, was not engaged in throttling.

Shortly after, the CBC, one of Canada’s biggest broadcasters that is subsidized by the taxpayer, released Canada’s Great Prime Minister on BitTorrent. It was at that point that users experienced throttling while downloading the TV show and reported the throttling on DSLReports. The question was, how can a user experience throttling on an ISP that has a policy against throttling?

The answer, it turned out, was simple. Bell Canada, an ISP already known to throttle BitTorrent traffic admitted that they started throttling their wholesalers as well. From there, a firestorm of debate erupted over their throttling practices. The debate spread to other sites like Digital Copyright Canada over anti-competitive practices among other things.

So while the people behind the scenes of the CBC were noting how successful the experiment of putting a prime time show on BitTorrent was, users were noting how legitimate businesses can be negatively affected by the throttling practices. CBC isn’t the only one being affected by the throttling practices, a small company called Glance Networks reported how throttling in the United States have negatively impacted his legitimate online business.

Meanwhile, the story about users being throttled while downloading the show made it all the way to the CBC. The CBC even reported on the Bell controversy as well.

As the debate spread, a FaceBook group called Stop Bell From Throttling DSL Resellers was started to stop Bell from throttling their wholesalers. More users jumped on board writing letters to the CRTC and the Competition Bureau of Canada complaining about these anti-competitive practices.

Now, more recently, the Council of Canadians is demanding that Bell cease these practices and heading up an additional letter writing campaign. The campaign made it onto the front page of CIPPIC.

While a can of worms seems to have already been opened up already, the debate went from fairly heated to a hot button topic when the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) jumped into the debates.

“The National Union has become increasingly concerned about the issue of network neutrality and Canada’s lack of action to protect consumers and producers of Internet
material,” NUPGE president James Clancy says in a letter to CRTC chairman Konrad W. Von Finckenstein.

“This past week it was reported that Bell Canada, without advance warning of its intention, will be “throttling” Internet access for Sympatico users who utilize file sharing software during peak hours. Bell’s reluctant admission of its plans follows Rogers’ equally hesitant partial disclosure that it is traffic shaping.”

“I would point out that the file sharing software,” the letter states, “for example BitTorrent, is legal and there are many legitimate uses for it. Indeed, this past week the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced it was making episodes of Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister, free and without restriction, for download using BitTorrent. This means that those Canadians, who are Bell or Rogers Internet service subscribers, wishing to download this show from their public broadcaster will be hampered in their efforts.”

The initiative made headline news on the CBC as well.

There is currently no word on how the CRTC will respond to this, not to mention the Competition Bureau of Canada. In the mean time, the debate now is like night and day compared to the beginning of the month where people like Michael Geist worried about how the debate was barely recognized despite high profile cases occurring.

Rogers and Bell may have a tough road ahead of them should the CRTC and the Competition Bureau of Canada decides to act. Just recently, under pressure from the FCC in the United States, Comcast partially caved to demands over their traffic shaping practices and said that they would, at least, back off their practices to lighter users. Unfortunately, Comcast and BitTorrent Inc. working together is a harmony doubted doubted by some.
“We are pleased that Chairman Martin, Commissioner Tate and others recognize that protecting valuable copyrighted works is central to any discussion about network congestion.” Mitch Bainwol of the RIAA said, “We look forward to working together with the FCC and private parties such as Comcast and BitTorrent to ensure that the theft of music and movies is addressed as part of conversations to make networks more efficient.”

The MPAA also issued a press release on the matter:

”The agreement between BitTorrent and Comcast is exactly the kind of industry cooperation that is urgently needed to address the problem of online piracy. Movie and music theft on digital networks creates network congestion and impedes efforts by network operators, technology companies and content providers to deliver new, legal entertainment choices to consumers.

“The MPAA has worked closely with technology companies and Internet service providers for some time on a range of issues in which we have a shared interest, particularly focusing on the fight to eliminate online copyright theft. By continuing to work together toward solutions we can help ensure the further growth of a legitimate digital consumer content marketplace.”

It is likely that there will be major players in Canada trying to turn the debate around into a “fight piracy” debate as opposed to how traffic shaping is hampering online business as well as stemming business innovation as seen by the CBC when they released their television show on BitTorrent since it is exactly the kind of thing that is going on in the United States. Fortunately, Canadian have a lot more to work with in preventing the debate from going into the state the debate in the United States have right now.

Either way, it seems that the combination of the CBC releasing their TV show and Bell throttling their users created the perfect conditions for a network neutrality debate to be sparked this time around.

Update: Rumours are now circulating that someone from Bell is calling reporters Lemmings in response to the network neutrality debate.

Charlie Angus, a member of the NDP who is sitting in the House of Commons issued a press release on the situation.

“Jim Prentice cannot turn a blind eye while the telecommunication companies decide which lanes of digital traffic will be deliberately filled with potholes. These actions have serious implications for Canada’s innovation agenda. Protecting net neutrality is a fundamental cornerstone in encouraging the development of a true knowledge economy.”

The move by Bell is being blamed for interfering with CBC’s attempts to use the innovative Bit Torrent (P2P) distribution of its show Canada’s Next Prime Minister.

“Who made Bell the owner of the Internet? Why should Bell be allowed to interfere with innovative new methods of distribution for television? Why should it be squeezing you off the bandwidth if you are downloading Google Maps, watching You Tube or using P2P to transmit high levels of data for your business?”

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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