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Canadians Aren’t Buying Into Net Neutrality

The Tyee, an independent on-line magazine based in BC wrote a story about net neutrality more than a year ago, noting that most Canadians are sleeping through the debate.

They followed up again last week.

Despite what is called a “perfect storm of events that may crystallize the issue for consumers, businesses, politicians, and regulators,” there hasn’t been an overwhelming outcry, despite extensive press coverage of the most recent network activities.

There are a number of voices who present a conspiracy theory on traffic shaping in Canada. They promote an Oliver Stone-type narrative trying to have you believe that traffic shaping is intended to help stop the unauthorized distribution of copyright material.

Canadians aren’t buying it.


I think it is simple. Traffic shaping is consumer friendly.

Network management protects customer service. For the vast majority of consumers, traffic shaping protects the overall quality of their internet experience.

Traffic shaping is designed to make sure that the most latency-demanding applications work properly. Voice over IP and network gaming—these applications just won’t work if the network is congested. If all bits are treated equally, then all applications get equally degraded when the network is jammed.

Traffic management is designed to make sure that there is capacity for the bits that absolutely, positively need to be delivered right away.

As to the conspiracy theory? Traffic shaping doesn’t care if file sharing traffic is legal content; that traffic is made to be a lower priority because it is, well, lower priority. Contrary to the ridiculous assertions to the contrary, there is no loss of utility of the file if it takes longer to download it. Once it is transfered, you have it and you view it locally in full living colour.

Rather than threaten the distribution of video content using streaming media, traffic shaping allows ISPs to protect capacity for such latency-demanding applications.

Some users want to load massive files onto their hard drives; perfectly legitimate, but lower priority traffic. Such traffic isn’t blocked, but during peak periods, it is capacity restricted to prevent it from tying up all of the network capacity. Why is it unreasonable to shift file transfers to off-peak times so that the majority of internet users can continue to play networked Xbox games or place their VoIP calls?

Maybe Canadians are sleeping through the net neutrality rhetoric because network traffic management is designed to benefit the majority of users. It’s democratic.

Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar—there is no hidden motivation. Traffic shaping isn’t a nefarious first step toward blocking content; maybe Canadians understand that network management is simply to manage traffic—there is no hidden intent.

Net neutrality will be the theme of a special session at The 2008 Canadian Telecom Summit on June 18.

This posting appeared on the Telecom Trends blog, April 14, 2008.

By Mark Goldberg, Telecommunications Consultant

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John Harris Stevenson  –  Apr 15, 2008 12:23 PM

Mark, where does this leave CBC’s bit torrent distribution of programming? If a television program takes a long time to download, it’s much less useful to the viewer than if it is available quickly. In this case, it strikes me that the decision to throttle the traffic is arbitrary, and hardly democratic.

Mark Goldberg  –  Apr 15, 2008 1:34 PM

Thanks for the comment.

It is my understanding that during 2/3 of the day, there are no restrictions being imposed. Downloading a program during off peak hours seems to be a reasonable compromise. We aren’t talking about watching a sporting event in real-time - in fact, the measures appear to have been designed to preserve capacity for streaming media.

Should ISPs be trying to determine which torrents should be a priority over others? I think that raises other policy questions? Should the application providers be able to charge fees to content providers to have their media move better through the reduced capacity?

How is the decision to treat all torrents equally discriminatory?

Jessie S.  –  Apr 15, 2008 1:57 PM

Most broadband providers also own media assets of their own (and if they don’t, they’ll be acquiring some in the years ahead). You seem to paint a picture that suggests the broadband providers will resist the temptation to give a higher priority to their own online media. If that is the case, you are putting a lot more faith in the broadband providers than they deserve, in my opinion. The traffic shaping of today will inevitably lead to ‘selective shaping’ in the years ahead.

John Harris Stevenson  –  Apr 15, 2008 10:20 PM

Do Shaw, Bell, Rogers, etc. publish guidelines for their customers that detail how they handle traffic? That would be useful in planning when to conduct certain Internet activities, including downloading files or streaming video.

Farrell J. McGovern  –  Apr 16, 2008 4:33 PM

I think the lack of public concern about this problem is the lack of knowledge about it. A good way to explain is if you had Rogers cable, and they had a deal with NBC and CTV…all NBC & CTV programs would show up at their scheduled time, but CBC, CBS, ABC, etc would always start between 5 and 15 minutes later than their scheduled time.

So, unless your favourate station station paid off Rogers, you will not get the service you expect. And, if course, this raises the whole spectre of Payola in a totally different format.

To take this scenario into the internet realm. Rogers has a deal with Yahoo, so you might have to wait longer to get results back from Google’s, or Microsoft’s search engines, or find that when accessing your Hotmail and Gmail accounts they take forever to load, but your Yahoo mail pops up instantly.

And that is just the thin edge of the problem.

Imagine, f Rogers and Yahoo signed an even more restrictive deal that didn’t slow down Gmail and Hotmail, but totally blocked them? There is no law that I am aware of that would prevent them from doing so. If they felt they could make money doing it it this way, they could.

If, on the other hand, we had some sort of binding net neutrality agreement, then the Payola of the Internet would be clipped at the bud.

Mark Goldberg  –  Apr 16, 2008 5:27 PM

Farrell -

The scenario you paint doesn’t hold, because there are already anti-discrimination rules in place in Canada. I wrote about this a little more than a year ago.

As far as your scenario that suggests a restrictive deal blocking traffic, Canada has a section of the Telecom Act (S. 36) that already prohibits this. 

There is no need for further regulation or binding net neutrality agreements. Sufficient law is already in place.

Farrell J. McGovern  –  Apr 16, 2008 5:47 PM

Then how is the throttling of Bit Torrent files legal? Roger’s has deals with various big media through their cable network, and Bell has BEV…and they are throttling their own competition, eg: CBC’s recent broadcast. Ultimately, Bit Torrent distribution of programs is a much better form of distribution than streaming.

I know many people who don’t watch TV any more except for the news, they download all of the shows they like to watch. They get nice, high resolution video, and no commercials. And they can play them any time they want. The only thing they sacrifice is getting them as soon as they are broadcast. I am sure that if the various networks released the shows on Bit Torrent, with commercials, allowing everyone to download them without threat of legal attacks, people would jump at it. Of course, this would piss off Rogers and Bell because they see themselves as Media companies.

But it could happen, and there are various models for this type of distribution could pay…subscribe to your favorite program directly, and you get access to a high capacity, high speed Bit Torrent server. DVD would sell because you would include scenes that were cut, as well as commentary and other extras.

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