In recent months, exploding demand for Internet bandwidth has caused a rift between network providers and content providers.

Content providers argue that Net neutrality should be preserved and all Internet traffic should be treated equally. They say that allowing network providers to charge additional fees to content providers could create a multi-tiered Internet where traffic from content providers who pay a premium receives better treatment.

“The people who are for Net neutrality believe that the network providers will, somehow, give priority to certain people who pay them more money,” says Brian Sharwood, an analyst with telecom consultancy Seaboard Group in Toronto. “Therefore, it creates an uneven Internet — that is really the main concern.”

Network providers contend that they’re having to foot the bill for the expensive network upgrades required to support increasingly bandwidth-hungry applications. And they would like to offset that expense by charging additional fees.

“Why is it we’re always buying more bandwidth for them [content providers] to make more profit?” says Tom Copeland, chair of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.

“If things like video-on-demand and VoIP continue to expand the need for bandwidth, I can see in the not-too-distant future many ISPs will be looking at costs in the neighbourhood of 30 to 50 per cent increases year over year,” he adds.

But Net neutrality laws aren’t likely to be coming anytime soon. Copeland doesn’t see any real movement to act on the federal government’s part. “I can’t see lobbying for new laws,” he says. “We can’t even get the Minister of Industry to look at the anti-spam taskforce. I think Net neutrality isn’t on anyone’s horizon right now.”