New Accountability Needed For ISPs

My weekly Law Bytes column (full hypertext version with background links or Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses on a touchy subject — ISP accountability.

I argue that it is time to re-examine the self-regulatory, hands-off approach to ISPs. Content regulation is clearly unworkable and dangerous, however, I am of the view that increased accountability for ISP's carrier function may be needed.

I cite at least four reasons for the change. First, the the lack of broadband competition leaves most consumer vulnerable to service changes such as the introduction of bandwidth caps. Second, the recent attempts by some ISPs to cut off Vonage points to the potential hostility toward network neutrality and the need for a strong regulator to guard against packet preferencing. Third, there is a significant free rider problem in the inconsistent ISP fight against spam with some ISPs spending millions to combat the problem and others doing very little. Fourth, with lawful access possibly on the way, ISPs will play an increasingly critical role as guardians of personal information and new accountability might provide an additional layer of protection.

With Canada about to embark on a telecommunications policy review, it is at least time to put the issue on the table.

Update: The Ottawa Citizen version of the column is now online (no reg required).

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