CRTC to be more open with Internet traffic complaints

The federal telecom regulator has promised to be more open in the way it handles complaints that Internet carriers interfere with traffic on their networks.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said Thursday that any findings of non-compliance with its traffic management policy will be posted on the CRTC Website. The commission will also publish a summary of the number and types of complaints it gets.

Complaints about Internet traffic management practices first have to be handled by the Internet service provider. If unsatisfied, the complaint can be publicly filed on its Web site.

If the commission’s staff believes the complaint raises potential issues with the CRTC’s rules allowing traffic management, the ISP will be notified within 15 calendar days of the filing of the complaint. The ISP will have to file a response within 20 calendar days.

Failure by the ISP to respond to the complaint will be considered non-compliance with traffic management policy.

If the commission staff considers the traffic management policy is off-side it has a range of options including starting a hearing where the ISP would have to show why the CRTC shouldn’t issue a mandatory order to stop what it’s doing. It could also order the ISP to make a partial reimbursement to the subscriber.

University of Ottawa Internet law professor Michael Geist said the process is a good start, in that it shows the commission has a new commitment to disclosing these complaints.

It also sets a firm timetable for action, he said, noting one complaint he discovered “dragged on for months.”

 Earlier this year Geist had to resort to Access to Information requests to compile a list of complaints to the commission and their resolution. He calculates “there was a complaint every other week or so,” since ISPs were allowed to manage traffic in 2009. There might have been more, he added, if people knew of the process.

On his online blog Geist has been critical that the commission has been handling these complaints quietly. The new process “is definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “Internet service providers I think are sensitive to public complaints on their traffic management practices, and so the fact that this will be made more public by the CRTC is a very good thing.”

However, he is critical that the commission won’t initiate investigations of ISPs on its own.

“The Achilles heel of this process is it still almost exclusively reliant on individuals for complaints.” There has to be a process for subscribers to complain, he said, “but along side that I think you need a more proactive commission that is willing to launch audits of the various ISPs to ensure they are compliant with the guidelines.”

In one of the most recent cases it handled, after Rogers Communications Inc. acknowledge it had misclassified and slowed the online game World of Warcraft, the CRTC told the carrier to file a plan to ensure other interactive games aren’t misclassified.

Rogers slows traffic that consumes more than 80 kilobits a second.

 The commission’s traffic management policy – sometimes called a ‘Net neutrality policy — requires ISPs to publicly disclose pricing information about economic traffic management policies (such as, for example, using more data means paying more), and details of how technical traffic management policies are used (for example, certain kinds of traffic is slowed during peak hours) and how that will affect subscribers. Unless the ISP has CRTC permission, it can’t block content to a subscriber, degrade time-sensitive traffic or slow down non-time sensitive Internet traffic that amounts to blocking content.
In an e-mail statement, Patricia Trott, Rogers’ director of public affairs, said it supports what it calls the clarification of the CRTC’s complaints process.

If we receive a complaint directly from a customer, we investigate, test and correct the problem if necessary. “If we receive a complaint through the CRTC, we follow the same process and provide them with the results of our investigation, within a timeframe set out by the CRTC,” she wrote. 

“We want to work with customers if they have an issue and are looking at ways to make it easier for customers to let us know they have a concern.”
In particular, she said gamers are some of Rogers’ best customers and the carrier wants to make sure they’re satisfied customers.
John Traversy, the executive director of the CRTC’s telecommunications branch, said the process statement was released now because the commission has had almost two years of experience in processing complaints. It had nothing to do with Geist’s blogs, he said.
As for Geist’s call for the commission to do audits on its own, Travesy said cost would be a limiting factor. He also noted that in the latest policy the commission has reserved the right to do an inspection or audit of an ISPs services if the complaint process warrants it.
Since the traffic management policy was released in 2009 there have been 50 complaints against ISPs, he said. Most related to the slowing of interactive games, but a number alleged ISPs hadn’t properly disclosed their traffic management policies.

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