The CRTC has introduced new procedural guidelines -
including a range of enforcement mechanisms it may use against
non-compliant Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - to deal with
complaints from customers who claim that ISPs are inappropriately
slowing down access to certain internet content.
The CRTC had already established a principle-based 2009 policy to
deal with Internet Traffic Management Practices (ITMPs), which are
economic or technological measures used by ISPs to control the flow
of traffic on their networks in order to prevent or respond to
congestion issues, including disproportionate use by some
That policy, which favours network builds and pricing
initiatives to deal with internet traffic congestion, generally
requires that ISPs be transparent with their customers with respect
to any technological traffic management practices, such as slowing
down or "throttling" a particular type of traffic, like
Peer-to-Peer applications or gaming. The policy also requires
that any such practices be applied in a neutral way, neither
preferring the ISP's own business interests nor
disadvantaging those of its competitors.
Likely motivated by both the filing of misconceived public
complaints and allegations that the CRTC has not been effective in its
enforcement of the ITMP policy, the new guidelines appear to be
intended to provide procedural certainty to complainants and ISPs
alike with respect to the CRTC's handling of complaints
concerning compliance with that policy.
However, in what appears to be a clear shot across the bow for
ISPs, the guidelines also spell out the range of enforcement tools
that may be brought to bear against ISPs found to be in violation
of the ITMP policy. These measures, which range from simple
requests for further information to more drastic measures, such as
mandatory, court-enforced orders, include:
Compliance meetings with the ISP
On-site inspections or third party audits
Commencement of a public proceeding
Show cause hearing for the issuance of a mandatory order to
take corrective actions, including partial customer
Publication on the CRTC website of the ISP's name and
the nature of the complaint
As provided by the Telecommunications Act,
mandatory orders may be registered with the Federal Court, where
they may be enforced as orders of that court.
The possibility of on-site inspections or third party audits may
be particularly noteworthy, because it is a common compliant of
consumers and net neutrality advocates that it is almost impossible
for an individual complainant to prove that traffic was throttled,
since they do not have access to ISP data, such as overall traffic
loads. Although the CRTC's inspection and audit
powers are extremely intrusive to ISPs, and have to date been used
very sparingly by the Commission, even the possibility that these
powers may be used in ITMP complaints may give some comfort to
There is nothing really new in any of the enforcement tools set
out in the guidelines: each of the measures is rooted in the
Telecommunications Act (many as explicit powers granted to
the CRTC), and has always been available to enforce the ITMP
policy. What is noteworthy is the Commission's laying
out of these enforcement measures in the guidelines, sending a
clear signal to critics and ISPs alike that it may "get
tough" with non-compliant providers.
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