Blog Post

For Now, No Net Neutrality for Canadians

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has rejected a plea by smaller ISPs to immediately stop Bell Canada from blocking BitTorrent traffic. Canadian providers requested such a step from the commission after Bell Canada started to use Comcast-type network management practices on its wholesale accounts, meaning it blocked BitTorrent uploads from users that weren’t even Bell Canada customers.

The issue quickly became Canada’s own Net Neutrality debate. It was fueled by the fact that Bell started to block P2P traffic right around the time that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published its first show via BitTorrent online. CBC itself has stayed silent on the issue, but consumer advocacy groups sided with the smaller ISPs. There’s still hope for this new coalition: The CRTC declared that it will start a broader inquiry into Net Neutrality and network management issues this week.

The CRTC, which is basically the Canadian version of the FCC, ruled against issuing a preliminary injunction because the ISPs couldn’t demonstrate that they would “suffer irreparable harm if the interim relief was not granted.” The commission did, however, acknowledge that “there is a serious issue to be determined” when it comes to the effect of Bell’s BitTorrent blocking.

Canada has always been viewed as very progressive when it comes to P2P. Part of this undoubtedly has to do with a court ruling from 2003 that declared P2P downloads legal, but there is also a whole lot of wishful thinking involved on the part of Americans. Let’s face it, we like to believe that everything is better in Canada. You know, people don’t lock their doors, health care is free, prescription drugs are cheap and bears just eat syrup all day long, presumably while downloading TV shows via BitTorrent.

Turns out, not everything is golden up north. Canadian cable ISPs like Rogers have been blocking P2P traffic for years without creating anything close to the uproar that started when Comcast began blocking BitTorrent last summer. Only when Bell interfered with the business of its wholesale customers did it become an issue.

This brings up interesting implications for both sides of the U.S. debate: A victory by Bell would provide additional ammunition for the anti-legislation camp, but the fact that Canada is at the point where it is right now could prove even more valuable for Net Neutrality advocates. Don’t regulate the issue, they could argue, and you’ll end up with a world in which big telcos control the way media is distributed not only on their own, but also on their customers’ networks.