Where’s Canada’s Net Neutrality? Why Does It Matter to Mobile Users?

Last month the FCC drew up policy guidelines that strongly favored net neutrality: the principle that providers should not block or impede legal internet traffic. This is an important principle for users on several fronts. Without strong net neutrality an ISP might censor websites, or slow down data transfer speeds because it dislikes particular traffic patterns. Net neutrality keeps the internet working properly – at least in the US.

Unfortunately, Canadians need to contend with much more primitive polices – or really, a lack of policy at all – courtesy of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC. Canadian law kicked some aspects of internet regulation under the CRTC’s banner long ago and now the body doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. The CRTC’s inactivity used to be praised when Internet users were still afraid of state censorship, but that era’s gone. Nowadays, Canadian ISPs threaten net neutrality on several levels:

  • ISPs slow down peer to peer network traffic. The argument that this targets pirates is swiftly disappearing as peer to peer protocols are increasingly used to deliver legal content.
  • Infrastructure providers slow down bandwidth that it sells to wholesalers, reducing viable competition.
  • In 2005, Telus blocked access to sites maintained by the union representing Telus workers who were currently striking. No matter how you feel about that sort of thing, shouldn’t you have been able to see for yourself?

Canada has no net neutrality legislation and the CRTC’s slow, minimal regulation have the potential to become even bigger problems in the wake of the smartphone revolution. As Canadians demand mobile internet access and use technologies like VoIP to bypass onerous fees, larger carriers have an ever-stronger motive to provide tiered service, where getting unencumbered access will cost extra.

If you plan on employing a smartphone fleet carrier meddling won’t just increase your cell phone bills – it may change your core operations. If you’re counting on high mobile connectivity for specific business functions and carriers decide the traffic you want is “premium,” you might have to settle for a sub-optimal solution. Right now this scenario only covers a small number of cases, but it’s the cases we can’t think of that need protection the most. That Canadian policy threatens business innovation isn’t some far out conjecture; Google and Amazon have both asked the CRTC to stop allowing traffic shaping.

As a mobile telecom expense management firm this is a special concern for us. GILL Technologies has a special degree of competency in mixed telecom, particularly wireless internet. We want to provide competitive solutions that help clients reach new levels of success, but to do our best, we need an environment that will respect the online medium and let it act as a level playing field for competition. It’s good for businesses, good for consumers, and we hope the CRTC understands that.