Canadian ISP A Net Neutrality Smoking Gun?

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It’s been difficult for the layman to conceptualize what is meant by the neologism “Network Neutrality.” It floats over heads like the word “neologism.” Advocates typically have cited scenarios that could happen without a neutral Internet and, when they can, cite real life examples – like yesterday’s report of a Canadian ISP shakedown.

Canada-based cable provider Shaw Communications handed Vonage more bad news in the form of a “Quality of Service Enhancement.” Vonage customers, presumably not the ones suing Vonage over its abysmal IPO, who connect via Shaw’s services have the “opportunity” to upgrade their VoIP service for a small fee. Otherwise, they can expect static.

For an additional $10 per month Shaw will provide a quality of service (QoS) feature that will enhance these services when used over the Shaw High Speed Internet network. Without this service customers may encounter quality of service issues with their voice over Internet servicepeer to peer music or video downloading can create periodic loading at the expense of other Internet applications.

When Vonage complained in court, calling the QoS a “thinly-veiled VoIP tax,” Shaw defended its right to relegate Vonage to a connection vulnerable to delays and “inherent limitations” while reminding the public that Shaw also offers a VoIP service, which just so happens runs automatically with the aforementioned QoS.

Verizon has publicly committed to Net Neutrality principles stating that it “makes no sense” to degrade or block Internet services. The free market would not allow it as angry customers defect to Verizon competitors; they say this while spending millions lobbying Congress against any meaningful legislation to protect Net Neutrality. AT&T and Bell South, on the other hand, have expressed their intent to follow Shaw’s example and extend those types of tolls to other Internet services.

The implications of the ability and desire to reconfigure the Internet, which up to now has operated as an open medium allowing new technologies and business models to thrive, into a tiered pay-up-or-else model smack of monopolistic leveraging – a threat to the competition Verizon says will save Net Neutrality.

Communications legislation as proposed in Congress does nothing to prevent ISPs from controlling access to content and services at all levels and there is ample incentive to do so on the part of telecommunications and cable industries. This will especially be true once a smaller, very select, group of corporate giants control the “last mile” fiber optic networks upon which so much of the Internet’s potential will run.

Critics of Net Neutrality measures in Congress have claimed there are no historical examples of abuse by ISPs and therefore government should not interfere. But even if this example comes from outside the U.S., it is interesting to note how the words of intent from the men who run these companies have not been considered as evidence of what will happen.

Instead they’ve downplayed arguments in favor of Net Neutrality as “a problem in search of a solution,” “rhetorical excesses,” or “cock-and-bull” stories. Though it is a perfect example of where the consumer is forced to pay a third time for the service they want (expect that as the norm without legislative protections) and a large company bullies a smaller company infringing on its turf, staunch supporters of a perverted idea of a free market will again discount it only because it happened in Canada and not the U.S.

But mostly it is important to remember who benefits most on either side of the issue. Over a million petitioners have pleaded with Congress to preserve the open nature of the Internet, but Congress seems more inclined to listen to a handful of corporations who stand to reap billions of dollars against the interests and desires of their customers – a customer base that will have few choices in the end.


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Canadian ISP A Net Neutrality Smoking Gun?
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