Friday represented the second anniversary of the establishment of so-called net neutrality rules in Canada, which were directives issued by the CRTC to prevent service providers from unduly discriminating against content, uses and applications of the internet. Two years on, it’s pretty clear the rules – which the regulator has touted as world leading – aren’t worth the paper (or digital bytes) they’re printed on.
Internet advocates have found the CRTC’s net neutrality framework to be wanting. Back in July, University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist uncovered a systemic failure by the regulator to enforce the rules despite numerous violations by most of Canada’s big ISPs.
The anecdotes explain it. Despite months of back and forth, including a dismissal of a complaint from a group of gamers by the regulator, cable provider Rogers is still slowing down perfectly legitimate uses of the internet, namely the World of Warcraft online game. The game makers themselves are starting to publicly bristle at this. If anything, the ongoing case proves the CRTC’s net neutrality rules are just a bunch of huffery and puffery, with no real teeth behind them.
The numbers confirm it. According to results released last week by researchers using M-Labs, a project started by Google a few years ago that lets internet users keep tabs on how their connections are being throttled, Canada has some of the highest prevalence of throttling in the world. In an accompanying essay, one of the investigators explains that Canada’s rate of throttling is triple that of the United States, which doesn’t even have net neutrality rules.
Open Media, the advocate group that most vocally opposes net neutrality violations, celebrated Canada’s rules and unfortunately regurgitated some of the CRTC’s self-congratulatory rhetoric in a release:
On October 21, 2009, open internet supporters breathed a sigh of relief. Big telecom companies had been caught red-handed restricting access to online services, and the pro-internet community responded and prevailed. This victory brought Canada some of the strongest internet openness (net neutrality) safeguards in the world.
The group did acknowledge that Canadians are still fighting to get the rules enforced, but until that happens, it’s way to early for anyone to declare or celebrate victory. While a group such as Open Media has to sound positive in order to give its supporters hope that they are making progress, there are no two ways about it – for the past two years, net neutrality has been an abject failure in Canada.