An advocate of greater internet access released documents Friday which he says suggest the federal communications regulator's response to consumer complaints has been "superficial" and that complaints are "often dismissed without serious inquiry."
Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, filed an access to information request to see what data the regulator, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, had on its handling of the complaints.
In a release, Geist said his findings show nearly all the large telecommunications providers have been targeted with internet openness complaints, by users accusing them of unfairly speeding up, slowing down, or blocking online content or applications.
But he said there have been few, if any, penalties.
"In fact," said Geist, "the CRTC has frequently dismissed complaints as being outside of the scope of the policy, lacking in evidence, or sided with internet provider practices."
Geist said nearly half of the complaints he found targeted Rogers Communications.
OpenMedia.ca, an organization which advocates for less control on network traffic, said Geist's findings show the need for more restraints on practices employed by the big internet service providers, or ISPs.
CRTC enforcement called ineffective
"The ineffectiveness of the CRTC's enforcement mechanism (if there can be said to be one) reaffirms the need for the CRTC to conduct regular audits of Internet Service Providers in order to prevent discriminatory online traffic-shaping practices," it said in a release.
"Currently, the onus falls solely on the consumer to report traffic-shaping, yet they have no access to data from the ISPs about their traffic management practices."
"Relying on big telecom companies with narrow commercial interests to self-report their unjust Internet throttling activities is not an effective safeguard of Internet openness," OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson said.
The federal NDP spokesman for digital issues, Charlie Angus, tweeted that Geist's findings show the CRTC "can't be trusted to protect (the) public on net neutrality," and promised that an NDP government would legislate clear rules on net neutrality.
Net neutrality refers to having the internet free from interference or restrictions from service providers.
The Liberal consumer affairs critic, Geoff Regan, called for regular CRTC audits of traffic control practices employed by ISPs.
"Without the threat of sanctions from the CRTC, Internet service providers have little reason to follow the CRTC's established management framework," he said.
Regan called for the CRTC to make consumer complaints about net neutrality violations and how those are resolved public, and also called for the creation of penalties for providers who fail to comply with net neutrality rules.
CRTC released rules in 2009
In October 2009, the CRTC unveiled rules that said the big telecommunications companies such as Bell and Rogers can only interfere with internet traffic as a last resort.
Instead, it said, they should use "economic measures" such as new investment and usage limits to combat congestion on their networks.
The CRTC ruled internet providers could still use practices such as traffic shaping and slowing of certain applications, and limiting bandwidth usage of heavy downloaders, but that the providers must be able to prove that they did so to prevent congestion and caused as little harm as possible to customers or wholesale internet provider.
Traffic shaping occurs when a service provider directs speeds — or bandwidth — to the different types of applications, thus making one, such as e-mail, faster while slowing another, such as online gaming.
The large ISPs have said a small portion of their customers are clogging up the internet by using the majority of its bandwidth, which slows down everyone else's connections.
Consumer groups, companies that do business on the internet, and small internet service providers have complained that the large ISPs manage traffic to limit peer-to-peer applications such as the free phone service Skype, that compete with their own business lines.