Opinion » Dot Comrade

Net neutrality questions coming to a head



Something very, very bad happened recently in the U.S. regarding the battle for net neutrality, something that could shape the face of the Internet as we know it.

If you haven't heard, Netflix recently entered into a financial agreement with America's largest Internet provider, Comcast, to ensure that Netflix streams would be given preferential streaming speeds. The agreement means that for a fee, Comcast would continue to provide Netflix access at a steady rate to people already paying to use their Internet. The deal was reached after Comcast began throttling Netflix traffic, reducing the ability of its users to enjoy their streams in all of their high-quality glory.

Boiled down, Comcast held Netflix traffic ransom and won.

It's a startling precedent that might one day make its way over the border into Canada, as more and more users hop onto the Netflix and online gaming bandwagon.

And it's there that the term "net neutrality" comes into play.

Meaning a neutral Internet, net neutrality has been championed by the majority of users as the only way the Internet should be provided, with many wanting laws in place to ensure a fair and unbiased service.

However, in the U.S. and Canada, definitive laws have yet to appear and given the recent Comcast/Netflix incident the sooner these laws are introduced, the better.

Right now, customers in both countries are able to pay for certain Internet speeds and data caps. But imagine if the providers also began charging companies and websites money to have their content streamed and accessed quicker than others. It opens up a host of problems culminating in the ransom scenario mentioned above.

And if you happen to pay $8 a month for Netflix and they suddenly have to shell out extra money to service providers to maintain speeds customers are likely to see that reflected in their costs.

Another question to be asked is what exactly are we paying for if not guaranteed speeds and data caps with unfettered access? If I pay $40 a month for 50mbs speeds and a cap of 500 GB, it should not be OK to throttle access to Netflix down to 15mbs.

Unfortunately, in Canada it is currently legal for Internet service providers (ISP) to throttle certain web traffic, so long as they are upfront about it and do so in a non-discriminatory manner.

In 2012, tests run by M-Labs showed many Canadian ISPs to be throttling certain web traffic, such as file-sharing. The results at that time were Rogers throttling 80 per cent of file-sharing traffic, Bell at 77 per cent, TekSavvy at 36 per cent, Shaw at 22 per cent and Telus at two per cent.

Since that time, Rogers has ceased its throttling of file-sharing traffic.

But as users begin to catch on and awareness grows that Internet speeds and traffic are not static, and can vary greatly, there is a growing desire for action to be taken to ensure fairness.

In the meantime there are various applications available online to see if your ISP is throttling your traffic.

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