Net neutrality in Canada

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Net neutrality in Canada is a hotly debated issue. In Canada, Internet service providers (ISPs) generally provide Internet service in a neutral manner, some notable exceptions being Bell Canada's, Eastlink's, Shaw, and Rogers Hi-Speed Internet's throttling of certain protocols and Telus's censorship of a specific website critical of the company.

History of net neutrality in Canada[edit]

In 2005, when Telus blocked access to labour union blogs during an employee strike, the question of net neutrality became more prominent.[1]

In March 2006, the federal government updated the Telecommunications Policy Objectives and Regulation with new objectives to focus on three broad goals:

  • Promoting affordable access to advanced telecommunications services in all regions of Canada, including urban, rural, and remote areas
  • Enhancing the efficiency of Canadian telecommunications markets and the productivity of the Canadian economy
  • Enhancing the social well-being of Canadians and the inclusiveness of Canadian society by meeting the needs of the disabled, enhancing public safety and security, protecting personal privacy and limiting public nuisance through telecommunications networks.[2]

In November 2008, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) scheduled a review of the Internet traffic management of ISPs and is still in the review process. The CRTC took comments from the public until Monday, February 23, 2009.[3] In May 2009 An Act to amend the Telecommunications Act (Internet neutrality) was introduced during the second session of the 40th Parliament to ensure net neutrality. This act (Bill C-398) did not become law.[4]

In April 2017, the CRTC took a series of decisions to support net neutrality. [5][6][7]

Types of net control[edit]

Bandwidth throttling[edit]

Typically an ISP will allocate a certain portion of bandwidth to a neighbourhood, which is then sold to residents within the neighbourhood. It is common practice for ISP companies to oversell the amount of bandwidth as typically most customers will only use a fraction of what they're allotted.[8] By overselling, ISP companies can lower the price of service to their customers per gigabit allotted. On some ISPs, however, when one or a few customers use a larger amount than expected, the ISP company will purposely reduce the speed of that customer's service for certain protocols,[9] thus throttling their bandwidth. This is done through a method called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), which allows an ISP to detect the type of traffic being sent and throttle it if it is not high priority and using a large fraction of the bandwidth.[10] Bandwidth throttling of certain types of traffic (i.e. peer-to-peer file sharing) can be scheduled during specific times of the day to avoid congestion at peak usage hours. As a result, customers should all have equal Internet speeds.[11]

Encrypted data may be throttled or filtered causing major problems for businesses that use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other applications that send and receive encrypted data.[12]

IP blocking[edit]

IP blocking by an ISP company is purposely preventing its Internet service customers access to a specific website or IP address. In Canada, certain ISP companies have been found to block certain websites. While some blocking (e.g., of child pornography sites) is considered acceptable or required[13] and is even stated in an ISP company's acceptable Internet use policy,[14] ISP companies have absolute control over the content transmitted over their wires, without adequately informing service subscribers.[15]

Cases of Net neutrality[edit]

Telus vs. Telecommunications Workers Union[edit]

In July 2005, while its union workers were striking, Telus blocked its subscribers access to Voices for Change, which was a community website run by and for Telecommunications Workers Union members.[16] Telus claimed the site suggested striking workers jam Telus phone lines and that it posted pictures of employees crossing the union picket lines. A Telus spokesperson said advocating jamming lines hurt the company, and access to those pictures threatened the privacy and safety of employees.

Telus said in a news release that it had reached an agreement with the operator of Voices for Change to allow re-enabled access to the website. The agreement included the removal of all content, including photographs, posted with the intent of intimidation.[17]

Bell Canada traffic shaping[edit]

On April 3, 2008, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers requested that the CRTC require Bell Canada to immediately cease its traffic shaping and Internet traffic throttling.[18][19] On November 20, 2008, the CRTC ruled that Bell Canada's traffic shaping was not discriminatory because it was applied to both wholesale and retail customers. The CRTC also called for public hearings to ensure that network management practices are administered fairly in the future.[20]

Current legal status[edit]

On May 28, 2008, the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) introduced a private member's bill, C-552,[21] to the House of Commons that would entrench the principle of "net neutrality" and enact rules to keep the Internet free from interference by service providers.[22] This bill died on the order paper at 1st reading on September 7, 2008, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Governor-General for the dissolution of the 39th Session of Parliament.

On June 8, 2008, a private member's bill, C-555,[23] entitled "The Telecommunications Clarity and Fairness Act" was introduced by Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South) that sought to undertake, among other things, "an assessment of network management practices that favour, degrade or prioritize any packet transmitted over a broadband network based on source, ownership or destination". Like the NDP bill, this proposed legislation fell after the 39th Parliament was dissolved by the Governor General.

A new decision on January 25, 2011, the CRTC ruled that usage-based billing could now be introduced.[24] Prime Minister Harper signalled that the government may be looking into such a ruling: "We're very concerned about CRTC's decision on usage-based billing and its impact on consumers. I've asked for a review of the decision".[25] Some have suggested that this adversely affects net neutrality, since it discriminates against media that is larger in size, such as audio and video.[26] The new ruling significantly throttles the availability of access by small business owners as they would have to pay for services.

As of April 2017 the CRTC will uphold Net Neutrality but also allow ISP's to offer differential pricing to customers, but only in the areas of speed rates, monthly data usage etc. but not based on content. This ruling protects the consumer from the practices of content blocking etal, but encourages competition between ISP's while still giving ISP's the ability to enhance and further innovation to their networks. [27][28]

Arguments for and against[edit]


Wholesale Internet Service Providers TekSavvy, Velcom, Acanac Inc. argue that throttling by Bell Canada at the ISP level makes it difficult to differentiate their services against Bell Canada, concerning issues about Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and security, and the quality of service.[29] According to TekSavvy, Bell Canada’s congestion report to the CRTC shows that the “data suggests no congestion problems for at least 95 percent of the network in Ontario and Quebec.”[30]

Wholesale ISPs do not throttle bandwidth,[31] but since wholesalers do not have a full network infrastructure, they rely on Bell Canada’s network for the last stretch of cabling to customers. When Bell Canada receives packets on the network, it may be throttled, slowing down the connection between the wholesale ISP and the customer. TekSavvy and Velcom support MLPPP which circumvents Bell Canada's throttling.[32]

Content providers Yahoo! and Microsoft argue that net neutrality law is necessary because without such a law, ISPs will destroy the free and open nature of the Internet and also create a tiered, dollar-driven net that favours the wealthiest corporations over everyone else.[33]

Michael Geist has been writing about net neutrality in the Toronto Star. When he had an interview with CARTT.CA, he said that "from a policy and law perspective, we ought to be thinking about what kind of rules the government might consider to help facilitate some of that."[34]


Bell Canada spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press, "Our position on network diversity/neutrality is that it should be determined by market forces, not regulation."

Political parties[edit]

The federal NDP has been a vocal advocate of the principles behind net neutrality, with MP Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay) whose role of digital spokesperson[35] for his party has drawn attention to this and other related issues, such as copyright reform. Mr. Angus has raised this issue many times in the House of Commons and in committee.

On June 18, 2009, federal Liberal Party MP Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie), the Official Opposition critic for Industry, Science and Technology,[36] declared Liberal support for Network Neutrality during Question Period by asking the Conservative Government to do the same.[37] Until this point, the Liberals had been mostly silent on the issue.[38]

As of June 18, 2009, the ruling federal Conservative Party under Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest) remains non-committal, contending that free market competition is more favourable than regulation.[39]

While the current position of the Bloc Québecois remains unclear, former Bloc MP Paul Crête (Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup) has come out in support of net neutrality.[40]

The Green Party of Canada states its support for net neutrality in its policy statement.[41]


  1. ^ Perry&Margoni. "Interpreting Network Discrimination in the CRTC and FCC". SSRN 1504707Freely accessible. 
  2. ^ "Telecommunications Policy Objectives and Regulation". Government of Canada. March 20, 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  3. ^ "2008-11-20 - #: 8646-C12-200815400 - Public Notice 2008-19 - Review of the Internet traffic management practices of Internet service providers". Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. November 20, 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  4. ^ "Bill C-398 (Historical)". May 2009. Retrieved December 20, 2016. prohibit telecommunications service providers from engaging in network management practices that favour, degrade or prioritize any content, application or service transmitted over a broadband network based on its source, ownership, destination or type, subject to certain exceptions 
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  8. ^ "Unlimited Bandwidth and Overselling". Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
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  12. ^ Geist, Michael (2007-04-16). "ISP must come clean on `traffic shaping'". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2017-07-16. 
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  14. ^ Shaw Communications (June 18, 2007). "Acceptable Use Policy Internet". Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
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  16. ^ "Telus cuts subscriber access to pro-union website". CBC News. 2005-07-24. Retrieved 2017-07-15. 
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  18. ^ "Application requesting certain orders directing Bell Canada to cease and desist from throttling its wholesale ADSL Access Services". Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. 2008-04-03. Retrieved 2017-07-15. 
  19. ^ "Canadian CAIP Cries Internet Foul". eCanadaNow. Ottawa. 2008-04-14. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2017-07-15. 
  20. ^ Maddock, Jeremy, ed. (2008-11-22). "CRTC Allows BCE Traffic Shaping, Calls for Further Debate on Net Neutrality". Telecommunications Industry News. TeleClick Enterprises. Archived from the original on 2012-09-19. Retrieved 2017-07-15. 
  21. ^ "C-552 Private Member's Bill". House of Commons of Canada. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
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  23. ^ "C-555 Private Member's Bill". House of Commons of Canada. 
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  31. ^ "Tomato/MLPPP - About". Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
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  34. ^ "Michael Geist on Net Neutrality". Cartt. September 11, 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  35. ^ Nowak, Peter (2008-04-21). "NDP calls for net neutrality". CBC News. Retrieved 2017-07-16. 
  36. ^ "Monsieur Marc Garneau Westmount--Ville-Marie". 2009. 
  37. ^ "Liberals speak out in support of net neutrality" (Press release). Ottawa: Liberal Party of Canada. 2009-06-19. Archived from the original on 2009-06-21. Retrieved 2017-07-16. 
  38. ^ Nowak, Peter (2008-04-28). "Liberals called on to support net neutrality". CBC News. Retrieved 2017-07-16. 
  39. ^ Geist, Michael (2007-02-12). "Bernier's troubling stand on net neutrality". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2017-07-16. 
  40. ^ "Edited Hansard, No. 105". House of Commons of Canada. 
  41. ^ "Supporting the free flow of information". Retrieved 2010-06-07. [dead link]