Angry Robot

Inside Canada's Telecom Nightmare

This week there was news that Bell is slowing down P2P traffic, i.e. bitshaping, even for their resellers. And there was information on Rogers’ new fee structure, with the highest plan costing $100 a month and still subject to a bit cap.

Meanwhile, in the US, Comcast is backing down from bitshaping after a public outcry. What the hell is going on?

At issue here is net neutrality, and in the US there is public debate on the issue, whereas here there has been none. In brief, net neutrality is the principle that the network should treat all content and devices equally – that internet access should behave like electricity or your water supply. And generally that’s how it’s gone up until recently, when gradually the internet providers have been introducing bitshaping (slowing down certain types of traffic, most often BitTorrent) and bitcaps (a limit on how much you can download before incurring extra fees).

Don’t be distracted by the current focus on piracy – the idea that ‘a few bad apples’ are slowing down the internet for everyone else. The real issue is internet video in all its forms: bittorrented TV shows, youtube, and pay-per-download services like iTunes and Xbox Live. Video takes a lot of bandwidth and with the explosion in online video, suddenly ISPs are seeing people actually use some of the bandwidth they are paying for. And they’d rather not, you know, make less money. Let’s not forget that both Bell and Rogers sell TV services, and online video threatens their profits in that business as well. The last thing they want is someone canceling their cable to download shows off iTunes – but if that happens, they want to get their cut. Despite the fact that their broadband services are sold on the promise of fast, rich media.

Another issue is competition. We have less of it here, and so our telecoms can beat up the consumer to their hearts’ content without fear of consumers jumping ship, as there’s no ship to jump to. What they’d love to do is sell you access to pieces of the internet like they currently do with TV channels: wanna play games online? $15 a month. Facebook? $15 a month. Yeah, Rogers already does exactly that with its phone service (the facebook part, that is). It sucks for the little guy, yeah. But it sucks for our entire country as we watch Canada become a technological backwater in an age when high-tech competitiveness is more important than ever. We have 60% cellphone ownership here compared to 80% in the US. Typical broadband speeds in Japan are nearly 10 times faster than the Canadian average. There are a lot of amazing things that can be done with ubiquitous high speed access if we’re not paying through the nose for the ‘privilege’.

So what should we do? Amongst other things, join the net neutrality Facebook group. By getting 40,000 members, Michael Geist’s Fair Copyright group was able to forestall brutal DMCA-style legislation up here, so it could very well work. Also check out this site although it hasn’t been updated in some time, the petition has 6000 signatures already. In general, just get the word out and let’s make this an issue that more people know about.

8 comments on "Inside Canada's Telecom Nightmare"

  1. Nadine says:

    This is beyond infuriating! I watch stuff on YouTube every day, without fail. My roomates do too, we all go on Live with our three consoles, they Facebook, we’re just always straining our wee wireless connection to the brink. Then we got that lovely notice saying our service was changing, and yeah it was basically less for more type crap.

    I understand Rogers is a greedy bastard, but why, why why why why can’t we pay for and have unlimited services? Why is this a figment of imagination in Canada and yet the US is backing off restraining their users? Backwater indeed!

    I feel like we’re one of those dusty colonies in Serenity and US users are in those shiny central planet mega cities. In fact, this is exactly something Browncoat fans should be rallying against…The Alliance in this case is the Canadian Telecom industry.

    They plug their shows as available on their main sites, then shoot up the price for bandwith and cap it off for extra fees. Dear frakking gods that pisses me off.

    The net should be neutral. It’s like making people buy a book, and then each page inside has a seperate fee attached to it, with another fee on top if they want to read quickly with light or more slowly in the dark. Ugh, I’m making myself sick here.

    Thank you for writing this. This needs to be discussed in public forums. Why isn’t this covered by local news networks? Oh yeah…The Alliance.


  2. emma says:

    here was a time when you had to go to the Bandito video to get something to watch, on your vcr.

    there was a time when a french guy played around with copying sound onto paper with smoke…

    and there will be a time when all of our dreams of more might come true.

    but you know what, if we dont start conserving energy and reduce pollution, well we will all be cave dwellers eating gruel.

    I agree with you guys, this all sucks bawls, Browncoats unite! but really, couldn’t this all be a tool to distract the masses, the fat north american masses…ooh i have less than before and now i have to pay so much…oh oh boo hoo, there really are children starving all over the world.

    i’m just saying.

  3. Nadine says:

    Valid point, emma. I’m just saying the internet should not be an issue in these times. There should be flat fees for data transfer worldwide so that the sharing of information and, yes, entertainment isn’t exploited for such imbalanced profit. The internet exists, will continue to do so in bigger and better forms, but access to that arena should not tiered where the rich can have access to all content quickly and the poor can barely access email, ya know?

    This is about the future of information and access, which brings awareness. I know there are other ways, but the reality is we are becoming a digital culture and access to technology has become a priority for citizens of nations like the US and Canada. Yes, there are starving people all over the world but think about how many people get together via the internet to fundraise and get the word out and try to help others. Why should those people have to pay premium prices to do so when in reality there is no physical need for such a charge?

    Like D was saying, people are barely using what they are already paying for so why hike the price up? Greed.

    I akin greed to evil. So I say fight evil.

  4. D says:

    I’m not sure that is a valid point, Emma; more like irrelevant. Not to say that pollution and child hunger aren’t important, but it’s possible to collectively and individually tackle more than one important issue at a time, y’know?

    Let me just hammer out some further possible implications of the lack of net neutrality: Bell will charge extra for, or deny altogether, services like Skype; telepresence, which requires streaming HD video (and has real, positive potential for medicine), will be prohibitively expensive; Rogers will strike deals with large content providers and prioritize their traffic, leaving small independents like us to suffer through slow connection speeds and frequent timeouts.

    All of that is possible in a world where the ISP gets to decide which bits it wants to deliver.

  5. smbm says:

    some union wants the crtc to take a good long look at this issue, whether or not anything will happen remains to be seen, and mysteriously i can’t find the article anymore.

  6. D says:

    A related issue of interest is the upcoming wireless auction, which could result in a 3rd national cellphone network. Articles here and here. However, if Quebecor wins the auction and only rolls out a Quebec network, nothing will change.

    There’s also the sale of Bell to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and some US banks, which some speculate could lead to more aggressive pricing from Bell.

  7. campaign says:

    There is now a Canadian Campaign to stop this..

    Stop The Throttler

  8. Nadine says:

    Thanks for the link!

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