The CRTC is issuing two key internet rulings this week — one on net neutrality and the other on metered internet usage.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission held extensive public hearings this summer to determine how much leeway internet service providers should be given in managing their networks and whether existing laws guarantee "net neutrality." Net neutrality refers to the concept of not allowing ISPs to unfairly discriminate against certain types of internet traffic by limiting services.
The hearings were touched off by a battle between Bell Canada and its smaller wholesale internet customers. Last year, Bell extended its policy of slowing down certain uses of the internet — specifically peer-to-peer software — to wholesale companies, who rent portions of its network to provide their own services to customers. The smaller ISPs, such as TekSavvy and Eagle, complained to the CRTC that Bell was trying to take away their ability to differentiate services.
The regulator ruled that Bell's traffic throttling did not violate its wholesale obligations but also launched the review to look into the larger issue of network management and net neutrality. A number of other large Canadian ISPs also throttle certain internet traffic.
The CRTC will also rule on an appeal of its decision to allow Bell to implement a usage-based billing scheme, which will let the company charge end customers for going over a set monthly download and upload allowance. MTS Allstream and a group of smaller ISPs say the scheme will again limit their ability to differentiate services and effectively lets Bell charge them twice for the same service.
Bell says usage-based billing is necessary to limit abuse of its network by heavy downloaders, which causes congestion for all users. The company has said the CRTC's decision to allow the scheme was correct.
Both decisions will come as the CRTC's U.S. counterpart, the Federal Communications Commission, is set to release its recommendations for new net neutrality laws. Last month, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski proposed six new rules that would focus on keeping the internet — both wired and wireless — free from interference by ISPs.
On Monday, a group of technology heavyweights — including Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, eBay and Sony — released an open letter that supports Genachowski's proposal.
"America's leadership in the technology space has been due, in large part, to the open internet," the letter said. "We applaud your leadership in initiating a process to develop rules to ensure that the qualities that have made the internet so successful are protected."
That letter countered one sent last week by a group of ISPs and network equipment makers, including Cisco Systems, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia, which said that FCC intervention could hurt investment in building and expanding networks.
"If the FCC takes a prescriptive approach to new regulations, then it could place itself in the position of being the final arbiter of what products and services will be allowed on the internet," the letter said.
The CRTC decisions will also come as a wave of recent reports have found Canada's internet infrastructure to be lacking. Studies by Harvard and Oxford universities and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have found that Canadian broadband does not compare well against other industrialized nations in terms of speed or price.
Another study funded by the country's biggest ISPs, however, came to the opposite conclusions — that Canada is a world broadband leader in four key areas: availability, user adoption, speed and price.
An earlier version of this story stated that, "Another study funded by the nation's biggest ISPs, however, found that Canada is a world broadband leader by every measure." In fact, the study found that Canada is a world broadband leader in four key areas: availability, user adoption, speed and price.Oct 30, 2009 4:22 PM ET