Thursday, October 22, 2009

Canada’s Internet Service Providers Can Legally Limit Your Bandwidth

The Canadian government has ruled that it is okay for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to restrict the speed, quality and signal strength to high-use customers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) which regulates ISPs in the country announced its long awaited decision earlier this week, taking a typically Canadian approach – right down the middle of the road.

When an ISP’s customer – someone like you – downloads large multimedia files (such as movies, playing online graphic intensive games, or streaming audio or video) you take up a lot of lanes on the information superhighway. These packets of data travel on the Internet’s network of roads and highways – commonl

Internet Explorer 4.Image via Wikipedia

y called bandwidth.

The more bandwidth you use, the less is available for other people using that same ISP for their Internet. To control this, and provide enough bandwidth for all users, ISPs have been known to limit the amount of bandwidth available to those taking up the most – this is called “throttling.”

Prior to this week’s announcement by the CRTC, different ISPs had very different views on whether throttling was an ethical and even a legal practice – after all, you pay for a certain amount of bandwidth usually when you sign a contract with an ISP. The last thing you’d expect is to have your ISP limit just how much of that bandwidth you’ve paid for.

Some ISPs in Canada were against the whole practice of throttling, saying it was up to them to increase their networks, to constantly grow with their customer demand.

Other ISPs claimed although they constantly expand their networks, it isn’t fair for a handful of users to use up most of the bandwidth, taking it away from other paying customers of the network.

Others were awkwardly silent on the issue, with claims from their users that they were being “throttled” but when questioned, these ISPs would neither confirm nor deny these allegations.

The CRTC has ruled in favor of ISPs, giving them the legal right to throttle their high-bandwidth customers – but they must provide at least 30-days notice to retail customers, and 60-days notice to re-sellers of their services.

This provides a sense of comfort to all – but it could be just a false sense. You as a retail customer – someone who buys Internet service directly from an ISP – will get at least a month’s notice if your ISP will limit your bandwidth.

However, the ruling by Canada’s ISP regulator fails to provide any means for consumers to take any real action. The CRTC did allow for a complaints process, so that you can make a formal complaint to them about your ISPs throttling, which will be investigated on a case-by-case basis.

But that would take time – all the while, your ISP could be throttling your access to the Internet. And even if your complaint is judged worthy and investigated by the CRTC, there is no guarantee that they will rule in your favor.

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunicatio...Image via Wikipedia

That said, they could easily rule on the side of consumers, just as easily as they can rule on the side of the ISP – all this is new ground, so it remains to be seen just how everything will play out.

The good points from this ruling – now ISPs have to provide notice to their customers if they intend to limit their bandwidth. And the complaints process allows for some sort of dispute mechanism, for consumers and re-sellers who feel unfairly limited in bandwidth.

The bad news from all of this, in these tough economic times, it could slow down the expansion of our country’s Internet, because it is cheaper – and now legal – to limit individual use, rather than spending more on building the technological infrastructure necessary to increase the capabilities of the networks.

Again, as all of this is new – Canada is now the first and only country with laws regulating the limiting of bandwidth – only time will tell.

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