05/13/2014 03:03 EDT | Updated 05/13/2014 03:59 EDT

Is Rogers Throttling Netflix? Michael Geist Wants To Know


Rogers Communications is defending itself in the wake of a report from Netflix indicating it has the slowest speeds for Netflix downloads among major Canadian internet providers.

But a prominent expert in digital issues wants to know whether Rogers’ poor performance means the telecom is slowing down Netflix, or deliberately allowing slowdowns, in order to give its own video services a competitive advantage.

University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist posed the question to Rogers over Twitter after the company tweeted it was about to double its capacity for Netflix downloads.

That didn’t make much sense to Geist, who, in a blog posted Tuesday, wondered why Rogers would separate Netflix traffic from other forms of traffic, and how long it had known there were download issues with Netflix.

He also wondered whether Rogers’ treatment of Netflix traffic violated Canada’s Telecommunications Act, which forbids telecoms from “controlling the content or influencing the meaning or purpose” of communications on its network.

"While ]Rogers] says that it does not throttle Netflix traffic (i.e. deliberately slow it down), its response also suggests that it knew that the service was being slowed by insufficient capacity," Geist wrote.

Geist has been warning that plans by Rogers, Bell and others to launch their own competing services could lead to a “two-tier” internet in Canada, where internet providers favour traffic to their own services over those of competitors.

The issue of “net neutrality” came to the forefront in U.S. politics in recent weeks, after a court struck down the country’s rules against favouring some types of content over others.

The court decision opened the door to internet providers striking deals with websites to give them a “fast lane” on the internet. These deals have already started to happen, such as the one between Netflix and U.S. cable provider Comcast.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is drafting new “net neutrality” rules that align with the court ruling. Critics say it doesn’t hold up the principle of “net neutrality” at all, as it enshrines a two-tier internet into regulations.

In Canada, Rogers, Bell and other telecoms were found several years ago to have been throttling certain types of traffic, including file-sharing and online video games, but the practice — at least in those cases — has evidently been discontinued.

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