Canada remains a world-leader in keeping our internet equal for all. Challenges to tilt the internet in favour of special interests come from at home and abroad. Last month, Canada’s telecomm regulator ruled that all online data be treated equally.
The ruling comes after Videotron, a music streaming company, offered their wireless service to subscribers at no charge for data used. This practice, called “zero-rating,” is violation of net neutrality because content would be biased in favour of their service. Subscribers to other music streaming services would pay more. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled the practice illegal.
In his ruling, the CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais suggested a less disingenuous tactic for Videotron:
“Rather than offering its subscribers selected content at different data-usage prices, Internet-service providers should be offering more data at lower prices,”
The ruling is a victory for the little-lobby-group-that-could, OpenMedia.ca (which I support financially).
“We just won again!,” they crowed in an email to me, “The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) just decided in favour of historic Net Neutrality rules that prevent Big Telecom from unfairly manipulating data caps to discriminate against certain apps and services.”
Michael Geist, professor of Internet and E-commerce Law, was equally enthused but more muted in his response:
“Most notably, Canadian consumers and creators will benefit in the long term from the Net-neutrality policies.”
Canada’s firm support of net neutrality extends beyond a level playing field. Without it, giant telcomms could start to collect browsing habits of unsuspecting customers and sell them to advertisers for the purpose of targeting specific demographics.
The concept of a flat internet is vital to free expression and innovation. In an earlier column, I argued that net neutrality is fundamental to democracy:
“Canadians must stand on guard for a free and democratic internet.”
Net neutrality in the U.S. has been tilting back and forth. In 2014, the U.S. appeals court ruled that the internet was not a “common carrier.” A common carrier is like a telephone line, simply a conduit to carry information. If telephones weren’t a common carrier, telephone companies could make it easier for businesses to access your phone than your friends and family.
The designation of common carrier is vital to net neutrality. Without that designation, internet service providers could effectively suppress content by making it more costly to view.
Sensibly, President Obama restored the designation of common carrier in 2015.
Now President Trump’s appointees to the U.S. telecomm regulator, called the FCC, intend to overturn net-neutrality in the U.S.
Canada faces a mixture of faux worry and resistance from the U.S. A Trump-appointed advisor to the FCC, Roslyn Layton, said “My biggest concern for Canada is that you continue to add regulation that deters the incentive to invest,” Her fake concern for Canada not believable. Many big U.S. giants such as Netflix oppose the Trump initiatives because they don’t want their subscribers paying more than competitive video-streaming. They fear that U.S. telcomms will do what Videotron tried to do and tilt the internet in favour of their own services.
I have a feeling that Layton’s real concern is that U.S. tech start-ups will move to Canada where innovative technologies still have unbiased access to the internet.