Back in 2009 when it looked like real net neutrality in the U.S. was all but dead, Canada implemented the country’s first net neutrality rules. The rules were particularly necessary thanks to a laundry list of particularly ham-fisted neutrality abuses by Canadian ISPs, ranging from Telus blocking subscriber access to union blogs in 2005, to Rogers throttling access to all BitTorrent traffic (thereby crippling World of Warcraft) in 2011. Canadian ISPs have been legendary for implementing all manner of usage caps, overages, and other neutrality-eroding “creative” efforts, which the rules aimed to address.
The problem? The government agency in charge of enforcing the country’s net neutrality rules apparently can’t be bothered to actually do so.
As we noted back in 2011, the CRTC doesn’t appear to be following through on complaints, simply flagging them as “resolved” if the ISP in question just insists it’s “working on it.” Fast forward to 2015 and Canadian Law Professor Michael Geist again notes that the CRTC still isn’t doing a very good job actually holding ISPs accountable for violations. Even when a complaint very clearly violates the rules, it’s the consumer that has to jump through hoops. And often, the CRTC can’t be bothered to investigate:
“In March 2010, a complaint was filed against Cogeco, a cable provider with a traffic shaping policy that continuously limited bandwidth for peer-to-peer applications on a 24/7 basis. Given the CRTC’s requirement that traffic management limits be linked to actual network congestion, the Cogeco policy raised red flags. Even so, the CRTC demanded that the complainant provide more evidence before it would investigate.
In a December 2009 complaint against Bell over throttling access to the MediaMonkey.com website, the CRTC dismissed the complaint on the grounds the site did not appear in Bell’s list of affected sites. Yet even when the CRTC pursues a complaint, there is little actual investigation. Most activity is limited to exchanging correspondence or prodding Internet providers to respond. This typically leads to revised disclosures, rather than real changes.”
To be clear, net neutrality is hard to enforce. And regulatory agencies can be beset by false complaints from consumers that think every hiccup on their line is a violation. But as Geist notes, even in instances where there are clear violations of the rules, the agency can’t be bothered to do any work. And they’re doing even less about things like interconnection issues, aggressive usage caps and overages, or connections that don’t live up to advertised promises.
That’s why, as we noted the last time this came up, it’s important to remember that net neutrality rules are only a backup idea to the real solution: more broadband competition. Carriers don’t engage in this kind of behavior if customers can vote with their wallet. Fortunately the CRTC did push things in this direction recently when they opened up incumbent fiber networks to competition. Still, actually doing its job and enforcing its own rules might be a good idea.