If you are a Canadian Internet user this might be of importance to you or it will soon become important. Recent changes in Bell Canadaâ€™s network have caused a lot of frustration for media hungry internet users. A practice called traffic shaping â€“ deployed on Rogers networks since 2005 â€“ has been slowly introduced into the Bell network and is effecting any peer-to-peer traffic crossing on the network. It has also been rumored that his policy has been escalated on the Rogers network to included any form of encrypted traffic. You know, the kind of encrypted traffic you participate in when you purchase online or do online banking!
This has not grabbed mass media attention yet since it really, only affected users of programs like bear share, limewire, and torrentâ€™s. Since the introduction of new policy on the Bell network on March 14, it has now expanded to Third Party ISPâ€™s who wholesale buy their internet access from Bell. A notable example of this is an Ontario ISP, Teksavvy Solutions.
A few things are important when framing this conversation. One note to keep in mind is that the internetâ€™s current foundations were built on public monies through grants to universities to become interconnected. Money the universities used to buy data connections from companies like Bell. This allowed an infrastructure to develop that eventually was taken over, and vastly expanded on, by telecommunication and cable companies. I doubt either would have taken place without that initial funding from the government.
Another thought to keep in mind is the inherent conflict of interest Bell and Rogers has by providing a data connection that can be easily used to avoid their other products. You can use your internet connection to get television shows, movies, make and accept voice and video calls. This would allow you to avoid watching Rogers or Bell Global Media (owners of CTV) channels, Bellâ€™s telephone service, or either of their on demand movie services.
Now an annoying network management technique has turned into a business and potentially legal problem as it will affect the bottom line of another business. Since the options are limited as to where else you can get this access, any terms of service they [Bell/Rogers] require become default standard. Keep in mind, both companies operated in a federally regulated and permitted monopoly situation. One that could be pulled if it is seen in the best interests of the citizens.
They will argue that the reason for this network management is due to the pressure placed on their systems. Yet, neither company has done major increases in network capacity for a number of years. Another argument being batted around is the legality of such peer-to-peer services, even though major players like CBC have recently begun offering legal media over these services.
So what now?
The answer is clear. It is time to send a signal to the CRTC that Canadians desire more competitive solutions to what is vastly becoming a necessary communication an entertainment tool. It is time to send a signal to Bell and Rogers that such practices will not be tolerated and are wildly being viewed as interference not management.
Telephony companies were not allowed to discriminate against users who used their phones to dial into the internet â€“ in a bygone era â€“ over those who used it for voice conversations. It should also not allowed to discriminate against users who download every movie available or just casually surf. More transparency is needed in this service and more standards are required. How I use my connection, or how much, should not matter or come with strings
This is not just a Bell or Rogers problem, or only a Canadian one. Telus, Cox Cable, Verizon, Comcast, and many other ISPs have put up systemic blocks to particular traffic in the past. Australia has started trialing software for pending legistation on mandated nationwide internet filtering. And there are network blocks such as the Great Firewall of China that have existed for a while.
The internet has been balkanizing for a while. Universities and other educational institutions have been gradually withdrawing to Internet2, while media corporations try to turn the existing network into another revenue stream and content delivery system – in the process raising a barrier to entry for 3rd party content by (de)prioritization of its traffic. In its turn, for fear of internet predators and security threats, governments mandate various levels of filtering, depending on the mores of the government referred to. The Internet is also increasingly viewed as only the Web, whereby competing technologies, such as NNTP and Gopher, wither on the vine, and other uses of the IP protocol, such as VPN or peer-to-peer networking, are ignored or actively suppressed as detrimental.
What makes Bell’s actions particularly egreigious is that, unlike Rogers/Shaw, many ISPs resell what is essentially Bell’s DSL service. All these companies are influenced by how Bell filters it’s backbone traffic.
Absolute net neutrality does has it’s drawbacks – who wouldn’t want to prioritize spam email to the depths of network oblivion – however, it’s far preferable to mutating a many to many communications medium into yet another broadcast vehicle for consumer content.
I think, however, the time to lobby the CRTC has passed – the window of opportunity was prior to when Bell did it, when Rogers was suspected of doing the same on it’s cable network. Now, as it stands, every major ISP in Canada is now tiering service (knowingly or unknowingly) because of this, and breaking the status quo has always been difficult. (When will I ever be able to purchase single TV channels? Never, that’s when). In today’s business climate, unless the CRTC does firmly establish that Bell and Rogers are common carriers of internet traffic, I don’t see this changing.
Outrageous prediction time: In the absence of Net Neutrality, an alternative to the Internet will spring up, much like the BBSes of the 80’s, based on inexpensive consumer technology, that will act as a ‘backchannel’ for those network traffics that the mainstream ISP carriers deign to relegate to ther bit buckets and slow traffic lanes. This will complement the ‘mainstream Internet’, but not replace it, as many aspects of the Internet (root DNS servers, long haul links) require technology or expertise that requires significant capital investment. I also predict that such an alternate network will be lobbied against by major ISPs and carriers, and that the twin boogeymen, child porn and terrorists, will be used to justify attempts at making such networks illegal.