Bell has been a lightning rod in recent weeks over whether or not it should be allowed to continue putting restrictions on how much you can use the Internet.

It’s called “traffic shaping” or “traffic throttling” and Bell and other Internet service providers say they must reduce access for their heaviest users in order to preserve maximum service for the maximum number of customers.

The big bandwidth hogs are those who watch movies or play video games. Critics say that this is the start of deciding who gets prime Internet service. At the very least, we’re headed for higher fees for Internet service.

In the U.S., a debate has raged for years on what they call “Net neutrality.” The premise is that no one should be able to regulate access to the Net, often through payment plans like the one Rogers will bring to Canada next month. Rogers has decided that the more broadband you use, the more you will pay.

The Canadian Association of Internet Service Providers represents about 50 smaller ISP’s who rent space on Bell’s system. They say there’s no evidence that the system is jammed. They filed a complaint with the CRTC, which regulates the telcoms. A decision from the CRTC is expected this month.

In the meantime, Rocky Gaudrault, owner of TekSavvy, an ISP based in Chatham, Ont., has been leading a grassroots charge against Bell. He’s organized a protest for May 15th on Parliament Hill. Mind you, even his firm offers two-tiered Internet service: One plan includes a cap, and another offers unlimited access. In his online forum, Gaudrault had to urge people to calm down and stop sending e-mail death threats to Bell staff.

While the debate rages, there are several Ottawa firms who are helping to speed up the Internet. Nortel recently launched a 40 GB service and says 100 GB is not far off. In fact, in many parts of Asia, 100 GB service is already in use.

So you have Nortel, Alcatel, Cisco, BTI Photonics and Enablence all working to speed up the Net. They all believe that new technologies will ensure the Net doesn’t slow down.

If the people who build the system say it can deliver all the capacity we need, why are those who sell us Internet access saying it’s jammed and they need to put limits on service? Good question. The CRTC is there to look out for consumers and their decision on this issue will be significant.

Until then, sit back and watch — or join — Rocky Gaudrault on the Hill next Thursday.

Website of the week: A Calgary firm offers software allowing up to 10 people to use one computer at the same time.

Paul Brent hosts Tech Now every Sunday as part of CTV Ottawa’s News at 6 p.m.Tech Now looks at the Capital’s technology sector along with the global industry.

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