Hundreds of protesters are expected to descend on Parliament Hill on Tuesday to urge government action on keeping the internet free from interference by service providers.

The net neutrality rally will draw together politicians, labour unions, consumer groups and internet activitists, with protesters being bused in from Toronto, Montreal and Chatham, Ont., the home base of its organizer, TekSavvy Solutions Inc.

"We're expecting between 300 and 500 [protesters], and if it's any more than that, we'll consider it an amazing success," said Rocky Gaudrault, chief executive officer of TekSavvy, an ISP with about 35,000 customers.

At issue are the actions of big ISPs such as Bell Canada Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., who have been slowing down the internet speeds of customers using certain applications, such as peer-to-peer software used for file sharing.

Bell and Rogers, Canada's two largest ISPs, as well as others including Videotron Ltee and Cogeco Inc., say they need to slow such traffic down — or "throttle" it — because a small percentage of customers are abusing these peer-to-peer applications and causing network congestion, thus affecting the speeds of the majority.

Protesters want ISPs to discontinue throttling

Protesters will urge Industry Minister Jim Prentice and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to enact rules that prevent ISPs from discriminating between different types of traffic, and to force more transparency from the providers. They will also ask that ISPs be forced to provide the speeds they are offering and discontinue their throttling practices.

Groups scheduled to take part in the rally include:

  • The National Union of Public and General Employees.
  • The Canadian Union of Public Employees.
  • The Campaign for Democratic Media.
  • The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.
  • The Council of Canadians.

The NDP's digital spokesman Charlie Angus and Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger are also scheduled to speak.

Smaller ISPs, including TekSavvy, which rents portions of Bell's network in order to provide customers with access, will be represented by the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.

CAIP recently complained to the CRTC that Bell is being anti-competitive by expanding its throttling practices to its members, and asked for an emergency cease-and-desist order.

The regulator on May 14 declined to issue the order, but the next day opened up the larger issue for debate and expects to make a ruling on ISP throttling practices by the fall.

The rally begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday. will be covering the protest, beginning with bus departures in Toronto at 4 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning.