Coverage of the release last week of Canada's telecommunications policy review centered primarily on the call for a new regulatory approach that emphasizes market independence over government interference combined with a slimmed-down CRTC and list of policy priorities. My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, webpage version) focuses on the rest of the story as the report identified a series of important areas – including network neutrality, ubiquitous broadband access, privacy, spam, and consumer protection – that merit government intervention or support. Network neutrality recommendations could have the most significant long-term impact on the Internet in Canada. In recent months, Internet service providers in Canada and the U.S. have begun to sketch out a vision of a two-tiered Internet in which they charge websites to deliver their content to consumers, limit consumers' ability to use certain applications, and reserve the right to charge premiums for the use of services such as Internet telephony.
After referencing Telus' blocking of hundreds of websites last summer, the panel recommended that the government establish a new consumer access provision that would "confirm the right of Canadian consumers to access publicly available Internet applications and content of their choice by means of all public telecommunications networks providing access to the Internet."
With conflicting submissions on whether market forces are sufficient to bring broadband access to all Canadians, the panel undertook its own analysis to gauge whether there is a viable business case for the private sector to deploy connectivity for all Canadian communities. Market forces can be expected to meet the needs of some communities, but the panel found that without government intervention as many as 1.5 million Canadians would still be left without broadband connectivity.
In addition to network connectivity issues, the panel also focused on consumer confidence in the network by addressing privacy, spam, and consumer protection.
The headlines may have touted the panel's support for limited government regulatory intervention, yet when Industry Minister Maxime Bernier gives the report a closer read, he will find series of critical areas where reliance on the market alone is unlikely to serve the interests of all Canadians.