Shortly before Canada Day the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released their decision as to whether they were to modify the forbearance framework for mobile wireless data services. To date, the CRTC has used a light hand when it’s come to wireless data communications: they’ve generally left wireless providers alone so that the providers could expand their networks in the (supposedly) competitive wireless marketplace. As of decision 2010-445 the Commission’s power and duties are extended and the spectre of traffic management on mobile networks is re-raised.
In this post I’m going to spell out what the changes actually mean – what duties and responsibilities, in specific, the CRTC is responsible for – and what traffic management on mobile networks would entail. This will see me significantly reference portions of the Canadian Telecommunications Act; if you do work in telecommunications in Canada you’ll be familiar with a lot of what’s below (and might find my earlier post on deep packet inspection and mobile discrimination more interesting), but for the rest this will expose you to some of the actual text of the Act.
In amending the forbearance framework the CRTC is entering the regulatory domain on several topics pertaining to wireless data communications. Specifically, wireless providers are now subject to section 24 and subsections 27(2), 27(3), and 27(4) of the Act. Section 24 states that the “offering and provision of telecommunications service by a Canadian carrier are subject to any conditions imposed by the Commission or included in tariff approved by the Commission.” In effect, the CRTC can now intervene in the conditions of service that carriers make available to other carriers and the public. Under 27(2) carriers can no longer unjustly discriminate against or give unreasonable preference towards any person. This limitation includes the telecommunications carrier itself and thus means that neither fees nor management of the network can be excessively leveraged to the benefit of the carrier and detriment of other parties.
I see a lot of the network neutrality discussion as one surrounding the conditions under which applications can, and cannot, be prevented from running. On one hand there are advocates who maintain that telecommunications providers – ISPs such as Bell, Comcast, and Virgin – shouldn’t be responsible for ‘picking winners and losers’ on the basis that consumers should make these choices. On the other hand, advocates for managed (read: functioning) networks insist that network operators have a duty and responsibility to fairly provision their networks in a way that doesn’t see one small group negatively impact the experiences of the larger consumer population. Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) has become a hot-button technology in light of the neutrality debates, given its potential to let ISPs determine what applications function ‘properly’ and which see their data rates delayed for purposes of network management. What is often missing in the network neutrality discussions is a comparison between the uses of DPI across jurisdictions and how these uses might impact ISPs’ abilities to prioritize or deprioritize particular forms of data traffic.
As part of an early bit of thinking on this, I want to direct our attention to Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to start framing how these jurisdictions are approaching the use of DPI. In the process, I will make the claim that Canada’s recent CRTC ruling on the use of the technology appears to be more and more progressive in light of recent decisions in the US and the likelihood of the UK’s Digital Economy Bill (DEB) becoming law. Up front I should note that while I think that Canada can be read as ‘progressive’ on the network neutrality front, this shouldn’t suggest that either the CRTC or parliament have done enough: further clarity into the practices of ISPs, additional insight into the technologies they use, and an ongoing discussion of traffic management systems are needed in Canada. Canadian communications increasingly pass through IP networks and as a result our communications infrastructure should be seen as important as defence, education, and health care, each of which are tied to their own critical infrastructures but connected to one another and enabled through digital communications systems. Digital infrastructures draw together the fibres connecting the Canadian people, Canadian business, and Canadian security, and we need to elevate the discussions about this infrastructure to make it a prominent part of the national agenda.
The result of the wireless competition in Canada is this: Canadians actually enjoy pretty fast wireless networks. We can certainly complain about the high costs of such networks, about the conditions under which wireless spectrum was purchased and is used, and so forth, but the fact is that pretty impressive wireless networks exist…for Canadians with cash. As any network operator knows, however, speed is only part of the equation; it’s just as important to have sufficient data provisioning so your user base can genuinely take advantage of the network. It’s partially on the grounds of data provisioning that we’re seeing vendors develop and offer deep packet inspection (DPI) appliances for the mobile environment.
I think that provisioning is the trojan horse, however, and that DPI is really being presented by vendors as a solution to a pair of ‘authentic’ issues: first, the need to improvecustomer billing, and second, to efficiently participate in the advertising and marketing ecosystem. I would suggest that ‘congestion management’, right now, is more of a spectre-like issue than an authentic concern (and get into defending that claim, in just a moment).
I’m in the middle of a large project (for one person), and as part of it I wanted to host some CRTC documents on the project’s web server to link into. You see, if you’ve ever been involved in one of the CRTC’s public notices you’ll know that there are literal deluges of documents, many of which are zipped together. For the purposes of disseminating documents over email this works well – it puts all of the documents from say, Bell, into a single zipped file – but makes a user-unfriendly structure of linking to: expecting casual reader to link to zip archives is unreasonable. Given that as part of this project I do want to facilitate ease of access to resources it’s important that users can link to the documents themselves, and not zip archives.
While I pay attention to copyright developments in Canada and abroad, and have strong stances on how academics and the Canadian government should licence their publications, I’m not a lawyer. I do, however, know that government documents in Canada are governed by Crown Copyright – unlike in the US, the Canadian government maintains copyright over its publications – and thus I wanted to check with the CRTC if there were any problems hosting documents from their site, including those presumably under a Crown copyright such as the CRTC’s decision.
The Canadian SIGINT Summaries includes downloadable copies, along with summary, publication, and original source information, of leaked CSE documents.
Parsons, Christopher; and Molnar, Adam. (2021). “Horizontal Accountability and Signals Intelligence: Lesson Drawing from Annual Electronic Surveillance Reports,” David Murakami Wood and David Lyon (Eds.), Big Data Surveillance and Security Intelligence: The Canadian Case.
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “Stuck on the Agenda: Drawing lessons from the stagnation of ‘lawful access’ legislation in Canada,” Michael Geist (ed.), Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era (Ottawa University Press).
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “The Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance: How Opaque and Unaccountable Practices and Policies Threaten Canadians,” Telecom Transparency Project.
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “Beyond the ATIP: New methods for interrogating state surveillance,” in Jamie Brownlee and Kevin Walby (Eds.), Access to Information and Social Justice (Arbeiter Ring Publishing).
Bennett, Colin; Parsons, Christopher; Molnar, Adam. (2014). “Forgetting and the right to be forgotten” in Serge Gutwirth et al. (Eds.), Reloading Data Protection: Multidisciplinary Insights and Contemporary Challenges.
Bennett, Colin, and Parsons, Christopher. (2013). “Privacy and Surveillance: The Multi-Disciplinary Literature on the Capture, Use, and Disclosure of Personal information in Cyberspace” in W. Dutton (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.
McPhail, Brenda; Parsons, Christopher; Ferenbok, Joseph; Smith, Karen; and Clement, Andrew. (2013). “Identifying Canadians at the Border: ePassports and the 9/11 legacy,” in Canadian Journal of Law and Society 27(3).
Parsons, Christopher; Savirimuthu, Joseph; Wipond, Rob; McArthur, Kevin. (2012). “ANPR: Code and Rhetorics of Compliance,” in European Journal of Law and Technology 3(3).