Internet service transparency bill passes in House

Internet companies currently advertise their speeds based on theoretical maximum numbers under perfect conditions.

Canadians may expect more transparency and accurate information from internet-service providers after a private member’s bill passed in the House of Commons this week.

Bill C-288, which amends the Telecommunications Act to require broadband providers to give more realistic advertising of their services, was introduced by Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa Conservative MP Dan Mazier last year.

Lack of access to quality internet services harms rural Canadians, so it’s important that consumers can make purchasing decisions based on reliable information, Mazier told the Sun.“I’ve heard so many Canadians, especially rural Canadians, tell me that they’re not getting the internet speeds they pay for. This is because the government has allowed internet companies to advertise speeds you may never receive,” said Mazier, who is also the shadow minister for rural economic development and connectivity.

Internet companies currently advertise their speeds based on theoretical maximum numbers — the speed at which it would run under perfect conditions. Advertising phrases such as “up to” are used to convince consumers that a service is better than it is, he said.

Data released by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority found that only one-third of Canadians believed their household received the advertised speed included in their home internet package all or most of the time.

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Mazier’s bill would require internet-service providers to present a “reliable indicator of the speeds and quality metrics” that are in the public’s best interest.

The first step would be to require internet-service providers to offer “typical” download and upload speeds instead of theoretical maximum ones. Then, consumers would be provided with information about how their internet speed is working out during peak times, such as in the early evening.

The third part of the legislation would begin a consultation process to help develop an internet-service provider framework designed from public hearings.

Representatives from most major federal parties have vocalized their support for Mazier’s bill.

Bloc Québécois MP Kristina Michaud said in November she was particularly interested in the bill due to the rural region she represents.

“Where it is available … people are not necessarily given all of the information. Companies will say that users have access up to a certain speed, for example, when that is not always the case. It is not adapted to the needs of the service users,” Michaud said.

Supporting reasonable regulations in the interest of consumers is one area where MPs from across party lines can find broad agreement, said Taylor Bachrach, an NDP MP from northwestern British Columbia.

Bill C-288 has also garnered significant support from telecommunication experts and advocacy organizations at Parliament’s Standing Committee on Industry and Technology. Consumer advocacy organization OpenMedia said that if an internet provider is advertising certain speeds, consumers have the right to know whether those speeds accurately reflect average performance before they enter into a contract with the provider.

Given the number of internet service quality grievances the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services receives, making service metrics available to customers when they subscribe to an internet provider is a good step forward, the commission said.

Mazier’s bill will be sent to the Senate, where it will be debated further before it can become law.

Service providers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story was originally published in the Brandon Sun. It is republished under a Creative Commons license as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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