Traffic throttling rules apply to wireless data: CRTC

Canadian cellular carriers now have to follow strict rules if they slow wireless data to manage heavy loads of traffic, the federal telecommunications regulator has ruled.

To no one’s surprise, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said Wednesday it will start regulating wireless data services by making wireless carriers subject to the non-discrimination provisions of the Telecommunications Act.  But at the same time it also said wireless carriers will also have to obey the traffic management rules the commission set out last year for wireline carriers.

It was a point on which most wireless carriers kept away from in their written submissions to the commission on wireless regulatory forbearance.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which counts most wireless carriers as its members, immediatly endorsed the decision.

However, while Telus Corp. agreed the decision was expected, the phone and wireless carrier still took a shot at the commission.

Jim Johannsson, the Vancouver-based carrier’s director of media relations said Telus isn’t concerned about the imposition of traffic management rules because it doesn’t interfere with traffic on its networks, he said in an interview.

“However,” he added, “we are concerned about regulatory rules that are put in place in the absence of a problem to solve. We aren’t aware there’s a problem with throttling of wireless data networks. So to have the CRTC impose a rule to cure something that isn’t a problem is something we’re never happy about.”

The traffic management rules specify that throttling is permitted to deal with congestion. But carriers can’t block content without CRTC approval, and it would only be given in “exceptional circumstances.” Any slowing of time-sensitive traffic (such as live video feeds or voice) also needs approval. But no approval is needed for slowing non-time sensitive traffic (such as music or video downloads) unless slowing affects the content.

Traffic-management policies also have to be explained to the public on carriers’ Web sites.

The commission has stayed away from regulating wireless for over a decade, much to the approval of phone and cable companies who are also wireless carriers, because in recent years wireless has turned into a lucrative service. However, last year the commission signaled it would take another look at wireless forbearance given the changes in technology at a hearing on basic phone services that starts in the fall.

To head that off the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which speaks for most carriers, lobbied hard for a separate hearing on the wireless issue.  The association quickly announced that the industry agrees the non-discrimination sections of the Telecommunications Act should apply to wireless services, as it does to wireline services. The commission agreed to deal with wireless by itself. 

(S.27 says no Canadian can “unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”)

The association was deliberately silent, however, on whether traffic management rules should be added wireless regulation.

There were voices in support. Barrett Xplore Inc., a Woodstock, N.B.,-based provider of wireless Internet to rural communities, told the commission wireline traffic management rules should be added to wireless, as did one Internet service provider and several public interest groups.

But Keith McIntosh, the association’s director of regulatory affairs said in an interview Wednesday that the association didn’t respond to those submissions. The commission signaled in its original traffic management decision that in all likelihood the rules would be applied to wireless, he said.

As a result, he said, the decision wasn’t unexpected.

In making its decision, the CRTC said giving itself the authority to apply S.27 of the Telecommunications Act to wireless data services would allow it to deal with allegations of discrimination by both wireless and wireline carriers.

That’s also why the traffic management rules have been extended to wireless as well, it said.

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