164. Net Neutrality
By Andrew D. Wright
The idea of net neutrality is pretty simple. An Internet Service Provider
should provide access to the Internet without favoring some traffic or
some web sites over others.
Of the four topics covered in the
October 2009 Internet Town Hall meeting
in Halifax -
Digital Divide and Net Neutrality -
the concept of net neutrality is the foundation upon which everything else
"When I invented the Web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission", said
Sir Tim Berners-Lee. "Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it
"Control of information is hugely powerful. In the US, the threat is that
companies control what I can access for commercial reasons. (In China,
control is by the government for political reasons.)"
In Canada, all the major telecommunications companies have violated the
principles of net neutrality, which has helped bring the issue to the
attention of the public and spotlighted the dangers of inaction.
Bell Canada throttled network traffic both on their network and on the
network connectivity they sold to smaller providers. Bell denied doing
this at first.
Rogers throttled peer-to-peer traffic then all encrypted traffic passing
over their network on the off-chance it was also peer-to-peer. Rogers has
also experimented with adding Rogers content to non-Rogers web pages
served to its users.
Telus was engaged in a labor dispute with the Telecommunications Workers
Union when it decided to block all access to the union's websites from
Another issue for net neutrality, according to Halifax Internet Town Hall
speaker Terry Dalton, president of ACORN-NS, the Atlantic Canada Organization
of Research Networks, is deep packet inspection.
Data is sent over the Internet in packets. Think of regular post office
mail - a letter is the payload and the envelope the letter is in, which
tells where the letter is going and where it is from, is the packet.
An Internet Service Provider should just read the packet information and
send the packet on its way. With deep packet inspection, the payload of
the packet is also read. The Internet Service Provider can then use this
information to target advertising to the individual user and monitor what
exactly that user is doing. Governments around the world use deep packet
inspection to spy on people.
Some Internet Service Providers use the information gleaned from deep
packet inspection to determine how they deal with that packet. The packet
may be slowed down, delayed or dropped if the Internet Provider doesn't
like it for whatever reason, which could be political or social as well as
In short, an Internet Service Provider has complete control over what
passes over its network. In many areas there is limited competition and
Internet access is provided by either the local telephone company or the
local cable company so switching providers is not always an option for
In both the US and Canada this realization has resulted in growing public
pressure for government to step in and start legislating net neutrality.
US President Obama has pledged his support for net neutrality and
appointed a pro-net neutrality chair to the US Federal Communications
In October 2009 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications
Commission (CRTC) issued new guidelines for Internet Service Providers
allowing them to continue their current practices but requiring they
provide notice to their customers of their network traffic shaping.
Critics of the CRTC framework point out that much of it is non-binding on
Internet Providers and it does very little in the way of protecting
Canadian Internet users. Continuing public pressure from Canadian Internet
users will be key in bringing in better rules in the future.
Save Our Net:
Video: Canada's Internet Explained:
Michael Geist's Blog:
Check your connection for interference (requires
Chebucto Community Net Internet Town Hall site:
The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community
Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about
computing, email firstname.lastname@example.org or
click here. If we use your question
in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.
Originally published 29 January 2010