The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently made a bold decision to release an episode of the show Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister through BitTorrent. The move was remarkable not only because the national broadcaster decided to go completely ad- and DRM-free, but because it openly embraced platforms that are usually known for pirated content, the Pirate Bay and Mininova.org.
But the experience has taught CBC a valuable lesson: Play with the outlaws, and you’re going to be treated like one. Numerous users have reported being unable to access the show downloads due to ISP-based BitTorrent throttling. To make matters worse, telecom company Bell Canada has just begun to throttle P2P traffic for all of its wholesale customers, potentially affecting a huge number of customers of other ISPs that resell Bell’s DSL service.
Many Canada’s Next Prime Minister fans have shared their stories of ISP interference on the show’s blog. One user reported that the download was going to take him 12 hours, while others complained about download speeds capped at 40 kilobits per second and uploads with 5-10 kilobits per second.
Canadian ISPs like Rogers and Shaw have been interfering with P2P traffic for years without provoking a public uproar comparable to that of Comcast’s BitTorrent fiasco. Bell Canada started to implement similar “network management” technologies late last week, and it has now openly announced that it will throttle BitTorrent and other P2P transmissions on its entire network by April 7th, which will also affect any DSL ISP that has a line-sharing agreement with the former Telco monopolist.
Viewers, while applauding the broadcaster’s willingness to experiment with BitTorrent distribution, were clearly frustrated by the experience. Some even believe that the timing of the throttling just when a major broadcaster is starting to embrace P2P is no coincidence. One user wrote:
“Look at all the first time torrent users here. Many of them will be left thinking P2P is overhyped and underpowered. If they have to remove the choke in a couple of months, the harm is already done.”
Others seem to agree, noting that Bell and Rogers also maintain their own video services:
“And, gee, just at the time when P2P is emerging as a legitimate alternative to those two companies’ television distribution duopoly.”
It looks like Canada is having its very own Comcast moment. Net neutrality advocates would certainly have a strong ally in CBC if the broadcaster decided to pick up the issue and bring it to the attention of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission — a move that is getting support amongst fans of Canada’s Next Prime Minister.
Ottawa University Professor Michael Geist already sees the writing for Canada’s very own net neutrality regulations on the wall. As he notes: “It will become increasingly apparent that the regulators and politicians can no longer remain silent.”