NDP calls for net neutrality

The NDP is urging the government to introduce net neutrality and stop Canada's large telecommunications companies from throttling internet speeds.

BY PETER NOWAK — The NDP is urging the government to introduce net neutrality and stop Canada's large telecommunications companies from throttling internet speeds.

MP Charlie Angus, the NDP's digital spokesman, has called on Minister of Industry Jim Prentice to follow the recommendations of the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, made in 2006, and enact legislation that will stop large internet service providers from prioritizing certain types of internet traffic.

"Ground rules are needed to ensure that the bandwidth management strategies of the major telecoms will not lead to anti-competitive practices or arbitrary discrimination against end use applications," he wrote in an open letter to Prentice dated April 17, which was recently posted on his website.

"I am urging you to adopt the recommendations of the Telecommunications Review Panel in order to send a clear signal that Canada has a plan going forward to ensure continued development of internet technologies and fairness for consumers."

Angus, who is the MP for Timmins-James Bay in Ontario, recently questioned the minister on his views regarding net neutrality in the House of Commons, but Prentice said he was not in favour of regulating the internet.

"We have a well advanced internet system in this country. It is not publicly regulated," he said in the exchange earlier this month. "At this point in time we will continue to leave the matter between consumers on the one hand and internet service providers on the other."

In his letter, Angus said Prentice was mistaken in that the internet is already regulated. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission governs how the major ISPs provide access to their networks to smaller, rival providers.

The issue of neutrality has recently come to light because Bell Canada Inc. in March extended its policy of limiting speeds on peer-to-peer internet traffic to its smaller ISP customers. The matter is currently before the CRTC after the Canadian Association of Internet Providers brought forward a complaint. Bell has also filed a leave to appeal with the Federal Court of Canada that seeks to remove its requirement to rent its network to third-party providers.

Without government oversight, problems arise: MP

Angus said that without government oversight, the big companies will likely engage in anti-competitive practices, such as "relegating some websites to the slow lane if content taxes aren't being paid" or favouring their own content and services over those of competitors.

"The question is not whether there will be regulation of the internet, but whether or not there will be scrutiny of the practices of the telecoms," he wrote.

The National Union of Public and General Employees and the government's standing committee on heritage have also joined Angus and CAIP in calling on Prentice and the CRTC to enact tougher regulation of the internet.

A spokesperson for Prentice said the minister has received Angus' letter but has not yet responded.

Some industry observers questioned whether further rules governing the internet were needed. Telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg said the Telecommunications Act already provides the CRTC with broad powers to punish bad behaviour in providing internet access, if the agency rules that it is indeed happening.

"We have existing rules that prohibit the nefarious behaviour that some people say is going on," he said.