Inside Canada's Telecom Nightmare
This week there was news that Bell is slowing down P2P traffic, i.e. bitshaping, even for their resellers. And there was information on Rogers’ new fee structure, with the highest plan costing $100 a month and still subject to a bit cap.
Meanwhile, in the US, Comcast is backing down from bitshaping after a public outcry. What the hell is going on?
At issue here is net neutrality, and in the US there is public debate on the issue, whereas here there has been none. In brief, net neutrality is the principle that the network should treat all content and devices equally – that internet access should behave like electricity or your water supply. And generally that’s how it’s gone up until recently, when gradually the internet providers have been introducing bitshaping (slowing down certain types of traffic, most often BitTorrent) and bitcaps (a limit on how much you can download before incurring extra fees).
Don’t be distracted by the current focus on piracy – the idea that ‘a few bad apples’ are slowing down the internet for everyone else. The real issue is internet video in all its forms: bittorrented TV shows, youtube, and pay-per-download services like iTunes and Xbox Live. Video takes a lot of bandwidth and with the explosion in online video, suddenly ISPs are seeing people actually use some of the bandwidth they are paying for. And they’d rather not, you know, make less money. Let’s not forget that both Bell and Rogers sell TV services, and online video threatens their profits in that business as well. The last thing they want is someone canceling their cable to download shows off iTunes – but if that happens, they want to get their cut. Despite the fact that their broadband services are sold on the promise of fast, rich media.
Another issue is competition. We have less of it here, and so our telecoms can beat up the consumer to their hearts’ content without fear of consumers jumping ship, as there’s no ship to jump to. What they’d love to do is sell you access to pieces of the internet like they currently do with TV channels: wanna play games online? $15 a month. Facebook? $15 a month. Yeah, Rogers already does exactly that with its phone service (the facebook part, that is). It sucks for the little guy, yeah. But it sucks for our entire country as we watch Canada become a technological backwater in an age when high-tech competitiveness is more important than ever. We have 60% cellphone ownership here compared to 80% in the US. Typical broadband speeds in Japan are nearly 10 times faster than the Canadian average. There are a lot of amazing things that can be done with ubiquitous high speed access if we’re not paying through the nose for the ‘privilege’.
So what should we do? Amongst other things, join the net neutrality Facebook group. By getting 40,000 members, Michael Geist’s Fair Copyright group was able to forestall brutal DMCA-style legislation up here, so it could very well work. Also check out this site although it hasn’t been updated in some time, the petition has 6000 signatures already. In general, just get the word out and let’s make this an issue that more people know about.