Protest: FCC Chairman's Dinner by Eleanor Goldfield/Art Killing Apathy (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/HmwbH4

Protest: FCC Chairman's Dinner by Eleanor Goldfield/Art Killing Apathy (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/HmwbH4

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Net Neutrality and NAFTA: Canadian Government Says It Will Address U.S. Policy Should Harms Arise

The Canadian government has released its response to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics report on net neutrality. The report featured a strong endorsement of net neutrality and raised concerns with Bell’s site blocking proposal. The government response emphasizes its support for net neutrality, highlighting the current legal framework. While the response does not directly address the site blocking proposal (noting it would inappropriate to comment on a case currently before the CRTC), it reiterates that it has the power to vary, rescind, or refer a CRTC decision back for reconsideration, perhaps a signal that a CRTC decision favouring site blocking could face a government response to rescind or review.

The most interesting aspect of the response involves the international considerations, particularly the U.S. reversal of its support for net neutrality. The government acknowledges the concerns with how U.S. policy could affect Canadians and promises to take action, including pursuing outcomes in the NAFTA renegotiation:

The Government of Canada is mindful of the concerns of Canadian enterprises and citizens over the recent changes in the United States (US) to its net neutrality regime and will seek to address with the US any situation whereby a Canadian enterprise is negatively affected by the traffic management practices of a US ISP. In the event that US ISPs engage in traffic management practices that harm Canadian interests, the Government will proactively seek to address these concerns to ensure that the US is meeting its commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including through the established NAFTA committees and co-operation provisions, and will engage with its international trade partners to promote an open Internet based on international best practices. Furthermore, the Government of Canada will pursue outcomes in the renegotiation of NAFTA that continue to provide for reasonable and non-discriminatory access for Canadian businesses to US telecommunications networks and services, including those of an ISP, and recognize the importance for consumers being able to access and use services and applications of their choice on the Internet.

While Canada presumably has bigger NAFTA concerns at the moment, the firm commitment to net neutrality, including within trade negotiations, sends a strong signal that the net neutrality has emerged as a foundational principle of Canadian digital policy.

2 Comments

  1. I have to admit, given the climate surrounding NAFTA, I’m quite skeptical that Canada can even get the Net Neutrality concerns addressed through this agreement.

    On the one hand, you have Trump pretty much threatening to tear up the agreement every other week. Couple that with him basically starting a trade war with virtually every ally in the world and it makes it reasonable to question the future of the agreement to some extent.

    On the other hand, even if Trump does finally dial back the rhetoric (LOL!) and allows the process to be finalized, I wouldn’t be that surprised if network neutrality winds up taking a back seat somewhere along the line. Trump already scrapped net neutrality in the US and the ISPs in the US are already working overtime to kill off state-level resistance (re: California). At minimum, I can only see resistance to any notion of network neutrality from the Trump side of the negotiating table.

    Just to stir up a nice amount of complexity to the situation, when things like CETA, TPP, ACTA, and a whole lot of other agreements were being tabled, you basically had agreements every party agreed to with more finer details being debated back and forth. Under those circumstances, it took YEARS to get a final agreement. Here with the NAFTA negotiations, you have one party that isn’t even a fan of the agreement in the first place, so I’m not so sure things are just going to go along swimmingly. At most, I can only see delays, delays, and more delays unless something completely unforeseeable happens.

    Best case scenario I see here is that this gets delayed until the end of this administration, Trump gets voted out, someone else comes in and says, “OK, let’s just go back to what we had before and we can put this whole mess behind us, deal?” Yes, it won’t have any of those fancy network neutrality provisions, but at least we ditch some of the nasty copyright stuff the US is intent on pushing through in this agreement at the same time.

    At any rate, I see a bleak possibility that network neutrality will even come close to becoming protected in this agreement in the near future.

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