Bell Canada Inc. will continue throttling the internet speeds of its smaller competitors for at least another few weeks as the CRTC has again delayed its decision on whether the company has broken the law by doing so.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which in August said it would make its ruling by the end of October, on Friday said that wouldn't happen until sometime in November. The CRTC needs more time to consider the matter.
"It's a complex issue," said spokesman Denis Carmel. "It's taking longer than we anticipated."
The delay is the second by the CRTC. The regulator was originally scheduled to make a decision in September, but pushed it back to October after extending the period of time for key parties to the dispute to make comments.
At the heart of the issue is a complaint lodged with the CRTC in April by the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, a group of more than 50 small companies that rent portions of Bell's network in order to sell their own broadband services. Bell began slowing, or throttling, the speeds of its own customers using peer-to-peer software such as BitTorrent last November.
The company extended that practice to its CAIP wholesale customers in March, who were in turn forced to slow their own customers, which prompted the complaint to the CRTC.
The CRTC refused CAIP's request for an immediate cease-and-desist order in May but launched a public inquiry into Bell's practice.
CAIP said Bell had broken the Telecommunications Act by changing the terms of its wholesale service without giving its members notice. Bell countered by saying the throttling is necessary to prevent congestion, which is within its network management rights.
The dispute has become the focal point in the battle over net neutrality, or keeping the internet free from discrimination by access providers. CAIP has attracted support from a wide range of net neutrality advocates, including consumers groups and internet companies such as Skype and Google Inc.
"From consumer, competition and innovation perspectives, throttling applications that consumers choose is inconsistent with a content and application-neutral internet, and a violation of Canadian telecommunications law, which forbids unfair discrimination and undue or unreasonable preferences and requires that regulation be technologically and competitively neutral," Google said in a submission to the CRTC in July.
CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein in June stressed that the regulator's eventual decision will be limited to whether or not Bell has violated its obligations to wholesale customers, and will not apply to the issue of throttling in general.
The CRTC will likely launch a larger investigation, which would look into the throttling practices of Bell and other large service providers including Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc., after the CAIP dispute is dealt with, he said.