Canada Adopts Comcast/Bitorrent Standard For Network Management

On the eve of the FCC’s upcoming Network Neutrality rulemaking, Canada has now settled its definition of “reasonable network management” and set rules for traffic throttling. Amazingly, the rules the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) settled on for “reasonable network management” look a lot like the standard our own FCC settled on in the Comcast/BitTorrent Order, but even stronger on the notice and transparency side. Hopefully, the FCC is paying attention here as it considers its own rulemaking on the definition of “reasonable network management.”

You can read the CRTC press release here and the detailed order here. The CRTC also says that it will sue this new framework “to review practices that raise concerns or generate complaints.” i.e., it will treat this as the equivalent of the Internet Policy Statement and entertain complaints like the Comcast/BitTorrent complaint.

While this means I will no longer have my realtime experiment to see if unrestricted traffic shaping screws up broadband, it does make the FCC look less like whacked out nutbars who don’t understand engineering and threaten the entire internet and more like foresighted regulators who are ready now to move on to a formal rulemaking rather than merely rely on a framework.

Moe below . . . .

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Canada Continues To Play With Itself For My Amusement — CRTC Allows New Tarrif for Metered/Capacity Limited Wholesale Services.

Back in December, I was very excited by the decision of the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to permit Bell Canada to throttle traffic for its wholesale customers. This represented the first OECD country taking a major step away from mandatory unbundling since the FCC deregulated our telcos in 2005. As a lover of empirical data, the thought of another country playing games with its critical infrastructure to test market absolutism struck me as a welcome relief from the U.S. always playing the guinea pig on free market absolutism.

And now, CRTC has gone further. In this Order, the CRTC approves an interim tariff for usage based billing (UBB) or, as we would call it here, metered billing with a capacity cap. I’m not sure if, reading this, it merely permits Bell Canada to offer a wholesale metered plan or if it allows Bell Canada to drop their unmetered plans and offer only metered plans. If the later, CRTC has pretty much delegated the entire industry structure over to Bell Canada. But even if this is just an option, it lets Bell Canada set the business model for how ISPs can do metered billing. So again, Bell Canada is going to have pretty tremendous influence on how the business model for DSL delivery evolves going forward.

Bell Canada had also asked for a fairly steep charge against an ISP if the ISP could not identify the specific customer using capacity, since that would evade the capacity cap. Happily for independent ISPs in Canada, the CRTC decided to hold off on that one for a bit.

As always, I shall be very interested to see what happens as a result. It’s always rare to see a similarly situated country willing to become a laboratory for experiments with its critical infrastructure. I look forward to seeing multi-year data on what happens to their broadband penetration, pricing, and overall use as a consequence.

Stay tuned . . . .

Pass the Popcorn! CRTC Offers Great Opportunity To Watch Someone Else Play With Critical Infrastructure.

According to this official news release, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) denied a request from the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) to stop Bell Canada from throttling without notice the traffic of rival ISPs leasing access to Bell Canada’s network. Instead, CRTC punted to a general inquiry on traffic shaping.

According to Michael Geist, expert on all things telecom and Candian and general super-smart guy, this is not the last word from the CRTC on the question. But since — according to the public notice — the first public hearing on the subject is scheduled for July 9, 2009, Canadian ISPs can look forward to a considerable period of time when they live at the mercy of their largest rival.

This does not depress me, as I do not live in Canada. Rather, I am excited at the prospect of some other country (for a change) deciding to make offerings to the Gods of the Marketplace and play games with its critical infrastructure while I get to watch. Until now, Canada has generally been outranking us in the international rankings on penetration, although it ranks less well on affodability and only so-so on speed (as compared to countries with real broadband). Those who see such things as relevant (and not everybody does, the situation is complex and the data messy, hard to come by, and subject to multiple interpretations) generally regard this as a consequence of bad policy choices by the FCC (again, not everyone agrees, the data — to the extent we even have data — is very messy and complex). In particular, a lot of us think that the decision to eliminate mandatory wholesale access and rely on “intermodal” competition was a phenomenally bad idea.

Now we may get a chance over the next few years to test this hypothesis, and at someone else’s expense! Go Canada!

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Oh Canda! Lessons for My Native Land.

Someone tell me why Canadians seem to be so much smarter than we are, at least on the public policy fronts that I cover. Maybe we should try to convince Michael Geist to take a position at one of the local law schools here in DC?

Whatever it is, two recent developments in Canadian media and information policy highlight that a does of common sense and a willingness by government ministers to (a) actually listen to what people have to say, and (b) learn something from our mistakes.

First, the Candian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) just announced it will impose new national ownership limits and cross ownership limits on its broadcast media. Why? As stated in the CRTC release:

The trend toward greater consolidation in the broadcasting industry has raised concerns that a large ownership group could achieve a dominant position through acquisitions, which could bring about a reduction in the diversity of local, regional and national content. To address these concerns, the Commission has decided to:

* impose limits on the ownership of broadcasting licences to ensure that one party does not control more than 45 per cent of the total television audience share as a result of a transaction; and
* not approve transactions between companies that distribute television services (such as cable or satellite companies) that would result in one person effectively controlling the delivery of programming in a market.

While I think their national cap is too high, I applaud CRTC for recognizing the need for regulation staring them in the face as consolidation continues to grow. What a far cry from the debate we have in public policy circles in this country, in which regulators vie with each other for who can do more favors for their industry patrons, discuss how to raise ownership limits to permit more consolidation, and argue over whether to deregulate just a little more or a whole lot more.

The second “Canada is smarter than we are” example comes from last month’s succesfull citizen campaign to delay introduction of a “Canadian DMCA”. When Canada’s Conservative government seemed quite willing to acquiesce to industry demand to produce — in a fair use parody of Simpson’s Comic Book Guy — the worsht copyright ever, a grass roots movement organized that apparently shocked the government with its vehemence and popularity with mainstream Canadians. The government delayed introduction of the proposed Copyright Bill until at least the end of this month, where hopefully Canadian common sense will once again send it packing.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Democrats and Republicans join together for bipartisan legislation designed to turn the Department of Justice into the enforcement arm of the entertainment industry, and judges weigh whether the act of copying a legally obtained CD onto your computer for your own personal use constitutes a copyright violation for which you can be fined and/or do jail time.

Oh Canada, why can’t you teach my native land a thing or two?

Stay tuned . . . .