Sparked by the controversy that has erupted over Bell traffic shaping tactics, the NDP has called on the government to amend the Telecommunications Act and stop anti-competitive practices by the giant telecoms.
In a letter to Industry Minister Jim Prentice, Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus urged the Conservative government to follow the recommendations of the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, established in 2006, and create legislation that prevents ISPs from traffic throttling and arbitrary discrimination against end use applications.
“We think basic ground rules are needed to ensure the kind of explosive innovation of the Internet is able to continue,” Angus, who also serves as the NDP’s digital culture spokesperson, said in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada. “This innovation happened because of a certain series of factors that are in place to allow garage-style operations to compete with the biggest players on an even field. We want to make sure that innovation continues.”
According to Angus, amendments to legislation should include: a) authorizing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to administer and enforce these consumer access rights, b) taking into account any reasonable technical constraints in providing such access, and c) subjecting users to legal constraints on access, such as those already established in criminal, copyright and broadcasting laws.
“I’m hoping that they’ll recognize the need to lay down certain ground rules,” Angus said. “What’s at stake here is this arbitrary interference and arbitrary decisions about what packet of information are speeded up and which are slowed down.” But it doesn’t appear that the Conservatives are listening. During a recent House of Commons debate on net neutrality, Minister Prentice said that the Internet is not publicly regulated and is not in favour of doing so in the future.
“At this point in time we will continue to leave the matter between consumers on the one hand and internet service providers on the other,” he said earlier this month.
Industry Minister office spokesperson Deirdra McCracken said that Prentice has not yet responded to Angus’s letter and did not provide any further comment on the matter.
Angus said that Prentice’s comments in the House were off-base and that the CRTC already regulates third party competition on the Internet, in addition to Bell’s actions in throttling Internet data, which could also be construed as a form of regulation. The NDP MP compared the government’s lack of understanding on the net neutrality issue to the fallen copyright reform bill that was set to be passed late last year.
“It’s the same thing that happened on the digital copyright file,” he said. “They’re completely out to lunch and they don’t understand how hot this is with consumers and many in government are probably scrambling to even figure out what the term net neutrality means. It’s pretty much indicative of where this government’s at right now. They talk a good line about the innovation agenda, but they’re about as far as you can get from the cutting edge of technology.”
But perhaps both parties are off-base on this issue. Russell McOrmond, an Internet consultant and head of Digital Copyright Canada, said that Bell’s actions with deep packet inspection is actually violating an existing CRTC regulated service, rather than the principle of net neutrality.
The connection between a user’s home or business and the first router of the chosen ISP should be thought of as a “last mile” connection, explained McOrmond, who also contributes to ITWorld Canada’s Enterprise Insights blog.
“There’s a natural monopoly on the last mile to our homes,” he said. “We regulate that natural monopoly to allow competing services to be built on top of those wires. That’s an existing regulated service and it’s a connection between our homes and the ISP, not an Internet connection.”
Because this is a regulated, non-Internet data connection, McOrmond said, it is an issue entirely outside of the net neutrality debate. Bell’s actions, he argued, violated the conditions of this regulated “last mile,” data service.
“The throttling issue is actually about allowing market forces,” he said. “So, when Bell Canada says ISPs should be allowed to manage their networks to provide customers with the services they want, they are actually sayings what they did was wrong. In order for the smaller ISPs to be able to manage their networks, Bell cannot legally be allowed to do the traffic management themselves.”
The CRTC has yet to rule the on whether an injunction into Bell’s traffic throttling actions.