For two decades, a small collection of cultural groups have been pressing the CRTC to regulate and tax the Internet. As far back as 1998, the CRTC conducted hearings on “new media” in which groups argued that the dial-up Internet was little different than conventional broadcasting and should be regulated and taxed as such. The CRTC and successive governments consistently rejected the Internet regulation drumbeat, citing obvious differences with broadcast, competing public policy objectives such as affordable access, and the benefits of competition. That changed today as the CRTC released “Harnessing Change: The Future of Programming Distribution in Canada“, a difficult-to-read digital-only report (as if PDF is not digital) in which the CRTC jumps into the Internet regulation and taxation game with both feet.
Net Neutrality And Creative Freedom (Tim Wu at re:publica 2010) by Anna Lena Schiller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/7VfazT
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has released its net neutrality report, strongly endorsing net neutrality safeguards and calling on the government to reject the Bell coalition’s website blocking plan should the CRTC approve it. I was the first witness to appear before the committee on the study, where I emphasized the need for stronger net neutrality enforcement, the risks associated with changing U.S. policy, and the concerns associated the Bell website blocking proposal (which at the time had only been leaked). The committee picked up on all those issues, recommending enshrining net neutrality in the Telecommunications Act, calling on the government to seek assurances from the U.S. that its policies will not undermine Canadian traffic, and encouraging the CRTC to more proactively ensure that ISPs are compliant with Canadian law.
The committee report also waded into the site blocking issue, calling on the government to reject it should it be approved by the CRTC.
Telus’ Website Blocking Submission: No Copyright Expertise Needed and No Net Neutrality Violation if Everyone is Doing It
Telus was not a charter member of the Bell website blocking coalition, but there was never much doubt that the last of the big incumbents would side with the application. Most of the independent and smaller telecom companies have opposed the proposal (and even the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association cannot bring itself to state that it supports the plan), but Canada is not known for competition among the big incumbents and this issue was no different. Indeed, the Telus submission supports the application, but relies on remarkably weak and somewhat head-scratching analysis to arrive at its conclusion that the proposal meets the necessary legal standards.
The Case Against the Bell Coalition’s Website Blocking Plan, Part 9: Why it Violates Canadian Net Neutrality Rules
Of all the claims that accompanied the launch of the Bell coalition’s website blocking plan – piracy rates (weak evidence) and claims of harm (unsupported by the data), inferences that the absence of a court order is commonplace (it isn’t), that the blocking will be strictly limited (unlikely), and that site blocking is effective (considerable data says otherwise) – the most audacious is surely the repeated assurances that site blocking does not raise net neutrality issues. Given that the starting principle for net neutrality is the right for users to access content and applications of their choice, blocking content is prima facie a net neutrality violation.
If the Bell coalition’s website blocking proposal was designed to garner attention, it achieved its goal as the proposal attracted thousands of individual submissions to the CRTC within days of it being posted online. The massive response is overwhelmingly negative, however, with thousands of Canadians registering their objections to the proposal. I wrote about the site blocking plan in a Globe and Mail op-ed and discussed it in an interview with CBC’s As It Happens. I will have many more posts on why the radical proposal should be rejected in the days ahead.