While Comcast began backtracking (well, sort of) on its policy of shutting down certain Internet traffic, those north of the 49th parallel look like they're about to become second-class Netizens. The culprit? Bell Canada. And to think that all these years they were worried about the ugly Americans controlling the media.
First off: Comcast and BitTorrent (one of only dozens of technologies that legitimately use peer-to-peer software on the Web) have announced that they are talking about how Comcast handles spikes in traffic on its network. To date, Comcast has shut down or tricked peer-to-peer software to interrupt downloads, but it now promises that in future it will adopt a protocol agnostic network management technique to keep data flowing on its overwhelmed lines. (You can read the release for yourself here.)
However, it still means that popular applications, such as digital phone service like Skype could be thwarted for Comcast customers. It also means that Comcast still wants to make the Internet its own and could shut out (or "manage") competitors looking to deliver video entertainment online or digital phone service competing with Comcast's offerings. Indeed, Comcast wants to introduce new standards to control Internet traffic–without going to the official Internet and Web standards bodies (well, it said it would submit its ideas to the Internet Engineering Task Force). Not exactly what people had in mind, we think. And you can imagine the uproar if another company, say, Microsoft had proposed such a thing. There'd be H E double L hockey sticks to pay. (By the way, there's already such an internationally accepted standard for addressing these "management" issues: IPv6.) Of course, what Comcast is really doing is desperately trying to avoid potential government legislation that would protect the Internet as it stands (see Net Neutrality).
Meanwhile, back in Canada (no, we haven't forgotten about you) several companies that sell high-speed Internet service to folks have learned the hard way that there's some fine print in their contracts with Bell Canada. It seems that Bell, which delivers the main Internet hookup to those companies, can reduce service whenever the mood strikes it. And the mood has struck.
Bell Canada has already begun slowing down certain traffic on Canadian Internet connections. In the process, subscribers to so-called high-speed services are experiencing serious slow downs (can you say, "dial-up") and even the venerated CBC got caught up in the controversy when its program,“Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister,” (notice how I'm restraining myself from making a joke about this) was made unavailable online due to Bell Canada's slow down. So much for those Canadian content rules.
The question is: Would Alanis Morissette call this ironic?
For more on the inequities of living in the Great White North, see an article from one of my former employers, The Globe and Mail. By the way, Bell Canada, polite as can be, is planning to slow down all Internet traffic it finds objectionable by April. Well, at least most of the snow should have melted by then and Canucks can play outside…
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