Category Archives: net neutrality

Net neutrality is like a utility, except that it isn’t

FedEx jets: why the internet is nothing like the postal service.

FedEx jets: why the internet is nothing like the postal service.

Net neutrality has certainly taken a beating of late on both sides of the border. In the United States last week, a federal court effectively killed what few rules there were that prevented internet providers from discriminating between different types of traffic. That followed an announcement a few weeks ago by AT&T that it was introducing a “sponsored data” feature for smartphones that would allow websites and online service providers to pay for exempting their content from users’ monthly data caps.

In Canada, meanwhile, a version of that is ongoing with Bell offering its own mobile television at a rate that’s significantly discounted from regular online video. Canada has rules that enshrine net neutrality and they have indeed been invoked in a complaint about Bell’s service to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In each of these cases, the very notion of net neutrality - or the idea that the traffic and content that flows across the internet should be free from unnecessary discrimination by network providers - will be sorely tested this year. On the downside for users, internet providers have now had several years to adjust to the principle and have gotten pretty good at figuring out ways around it, hence the increasing usage of data caps as a way to privilege certain services. On the plus side for advocates, the providers still haven’t been able to counter the principle itself, which has the advantage of being tied to such fundamental long-term concerns as innovation and competition. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on January 23, 2014 in bell, comcast, net neutrality


ESPN plan isn’t technically violating net neutrality

sportscenterA couple of weeks ago, I was dismayed to see the headlines about how ESPN is looking to strike a deal with U.S. cellphone companies to exempt its video services from data caps. According to the reports, the sports network wants cellphone users to watch more of its videos so it can make more advertising money, and it’s prepared to subsidize their usage to make it happen.

It was alarming news that hit the old net neutrality reflex, which was also evidently the case with many observers. Public Knowledge proclaimed such a deal to be a clear violation of net neutrality and urged the Federal Communications Commission to step in. Net neutrality has different definitions, but as the advocacy group puts it, at its core it is about:

…making sure that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet (if you ever forget that, just head on over to for a reminder). Imposing data caps on consumers and then allowing wealthy content holders to buy their way around them is a recipe for stagnation online. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 21, 2013 in net neutrality


CRTC claims victory but Rogers still a top throttler

Is that W. or new CRTC chair Jean Pierre Blais?

They say that a pat on the back is only 12 inches from a kick in the pants. After last week’s brazenly self-congratulatory press release, it’s an idiom the CRTC really should take to heart.

If you missed it, the regulator declared victory over Rogers and its throttling ways with an announcement that it was closing its investigation into the cable provider’s internet traffic management practices (ITMPs). “The CRTC is satisfied that Rogers has addressed its concerns regarding the company’s practice of slowing down certain types of internet traffic,” the release proclaimed.

The investigation stemmed from complaints brought forward by several individuals that Rogers was slowing down connection speeds to the point where online games such as World of Warcraft were unplayable. The situation was never terribly surprising, given that both the cable company and rival Bell Canada continue to be among the worst throttlers in the world, as Google M-Labs data for the first quarter of 2012 show. (Bell said last year it would cease throttling by March 1, 2012 - next quarter’s data should show whether the company was true to its word.)

The regulator ignored these complaints until the cause was taken up by the newly formed Canadian Gamers Organization. Or so everyone thought. Shortly after the CRTC published its release, CGO spokesman Jason Koblovsky issued his own statement - and he was less than satisfied with the supposed victory, to say the least. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on July 9, 2012 in crtc, net neutrality, rogers


CRTC barking up the wrong internet tree

Remember when Akon was huge? That was 2007, where the CRTC’s current thinking is.

So the CRTC is looking into whether internet service providers are actually giving customers the download speeds they’re advertising. As the saying goes, 2007 called - it wants its priorities back.

As per usual when it comes to internet issues, Canada is a latecomer to this particular party. New Zealand issued rules against the false advertising of speeds five years ago. In Australia, the Competition and Consumer Commission gave similar warnings to telecom companies in 2009. The United Kingdom tackled the problem last year.

According to Ookla’s Net Index, average download speeds in Canada are around 12 megabits per second. While that’s not at all world-leading (it actually places 35th, ahead of both New Zealand and Australia but not the UK), it’s also not terrible. Many Canadians are subscribing to even faster services, at which point the question becomes: if you’re signed up to 20 Mbps, does it really matter if you actually get 15 instead? Of course, everyone likes to get what they pay for, but is this really that big of an issue? It was when speeds were lower - getting performance in the kilobits was a big difference when you were paying for megabits, but now, not so much.

It might also be a bigger problem if there weren’t so many other things the CRTC could be focusing on. Chief among them are upload speeds - never mind whether actual speeds equal advertised speeds, how about those appallingly slow advertised speeds in the first place? Canada averages just over 2 Mbps, or 69th, according to Ookla. Shouldn’t the regulator be asking internet providers why their upload offerings are so slow?

There’s also the issue of rural coverage. Canada continues its slide down the broadband subscription rankings from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While Canada lorded it over the rest of the world a decade ago, it has since lost that leadership position largely through a failure to connect rural and remote residents. Rather than fiddling around with the few extra megabits that city customers may or may not be getting or throwing out some idle words, this should be a major priority for the regulator and its new chairman, Jean-Pierre Blais.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, there are the issue of data caps - or the artificial limits imposed by ISPs no matter where their customers are. These caps restrict internet usage by customers and discourage innovative new online services from starting, blossoming or even entering Canada.

U.S. authorities have the right idea. The Department of Justice is now investigating cable companies to see if data caps and their assorted deals are anti-competitive by limiting prospects for the likes of Netflix or Hulu. In Canada, data caps aren’t just condoned by the CRTC, they’re encouraged as “economic measures” that combat non-existent congestion.

The CRTC should be tackling real problems rather than engaging in silly, anachronistic make-work projects whose need is questionable at best.


Posted by on June 14, 2012 in crtc, internet, net neutrality, netflix


Internet too important for free-market economics

An op-ed piece on broadband caps over on Ars Technica caught my attention over the weekend. In it, Technology Policy Institute vice-president and fellow Scott Wallsten argued that caps aren’t perfect, but that’s okay.

Wallsten wrote that the arguments against broadband usage caps - based as they are on the fact that data is incredibly cheap and continually dropping in price - are fallacious because they don’t take into account basic economic principles. He argued:

The critiques miss the key point: in industries with high fixed costs and low marginal costs, aside from congestion, efficient pricing has little to do with marginal costs. Pricing at marginal cost in such industries cannot produce sufficient revenues to cover costs. Instead, efficiency in these industries requires spreading the fixed costs over as broad a customer base as possible. Efficient pricing will, in general, charge users with high demand more than users with low demand even if those users impose no additional costs on the network.

In other words, the ability to charge some customers more and others less is what keeps prices low overall. Wallsten compares broadband to airlines, which not only charge passengers differently based on the class of ticket they’re buying, but also when they make their purchase. If you unexpectedly have to hop on a plane tomorrow, for example, your need is much greater than somebody who leisurely bought their ticket for a vacation a few months ago, so you should therefore pay more.

Applied to broadband, somebody who needs faster speeds or more monthly usage should be prepared to pay more, he says. Critics of caps should therefore “think twice before making it harder to experiment with pricing models. Heeding their criticism too quickly may well harm the very people — in particular, poor communities who have yet to adopt broadband — who public policy now aims to help.” Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 15, 2012 in government, internet, net neutrality




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