Technology & Science

Internet providers could face hearings over throttling

Internet service providers that slow down games or other applications in violation of a CRTC policy may face a third-party audit or even a public hearing, the telecommunications regulator says.

Internet service providers that slow down games or other applications in violation of a CRTC policy may face a third-party audit or even a public hearing, the telecommunications regulator says.

In addition, a summary of complaints about internet service providers slowing down online games or other applications will be published online four times a year, the CRTC says.

The guidelines announced Thursday for resolving complaints about ISPs slowing down certain kinds of internet traffic — a practice known as internet throttling — come after a series of complaints in the past year from online gamers about Rogers slowing down World of Warcraft and possibly other games. Rogers says it has resolved the problem with World of Warcraft. It has been ordered to file a plan to the CRTC by Sept. 27 for fixing problems that may affect other games and applications.

The commission also published a document Thursday explaining what ISPs are allowed to do or not allowed to do to manage their internet traffic and how consumers can make a complaint.

The new guidelines say once a complaint has been filed:

  • The CRTC will forward consumer complaints to the ISP concerned.
  • If the ISP fails to comply with CRTC rules, the CRTC may take further action such as discussing the complaint with the ISP, requesting an on-site inspection or third-party audit or holding a public hearing.
  • If the CRTC rules that the ISP is not complying with the rules, it will publish the company's name and the nature of the complaint.
  • Four times a year, the CRTC will publish a summary of the number and types of complaints it has received, including the number that have been resolved and the number that are still under investigation.

The guidelines specify the amount of time given for each step.

Gamers unimpressed

Internet traffic management

Internet traffic management refers to techniques used by network managers to slow down some types of traffic in favour of others. In particular, some internet service providers say they slow down applications that use large amounts of bandwidth, but don’t dramatically affect the user’s ability to use the application when they are slowed down, such as peer-to-peer file sharing.

They say that allows them to guarantee higher speeds and better quality of service for time-sensitive applications such as video streaming that don’t work properly when they are slowed down. However, problems can arise if the technology used to distinguish different types of applications mistakenly classifies time-sensitive traffic as peer-to-peer.

The new rules don't satisfy Jason Koblovsky, who co-founded a group representing gamers and has made a number of complaints to the CRTC about apparent internet throttling of online games by Rogers.

Koblovsky, speaking on behalf of the Canadian Gamers Organization, criticized the fact that the CRTC is relying on consumer complaints to monitor whether ISPs are complying with its rules on internet traffic management.

"We find this policy update to be more of an insult to consumers.… This is not acceptable by any means," he said in a statement. "The CRTC has the responsibility to follow through, monitor and enforce its policies."

Koblovsky told CBC News in an email that he would like to see the CRTC audit ISPs regularly and impose fines for non-compliance.

Under a 2009 CRTC policy, ISPs are allowed to use technology to slow down certain types of internet traffic and prioritize others in order to ensure that time-sensitive applications such as voice calling and video streaming function properly.

However, the rules say:

  • ISPs must be transparent about the use of such methods so consumers can make informed decisions about the internet services they purchase and use.
  • The methods must be designed to "address a defined need and nothing more."
  • The methods must not be "unjustly discriminatory nor unduly preferential" toward particular applications.
  • The CRTC’s prior approval would be required for any internet traffic management practices that would block the delivery of some content, noticeably degrade time-sensitive internet traffic, and/or degrade non-time-sensitive traffic to the extent that it amounts to blocking the content.