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How to Vote for the Internet: Election Your Chance To Ask About Internet Policy

Appeared in the Toronto Star on March 27, 2011 as Now’s our chance to ask candidates about Internet policy

The federal election marks the end for at least five government bills focused on Internet and digital policy. Bills on privacy, copyright, and Internet surveillance died on the order paper and will have to start from scratch when a new government is elected in May. Moreover, the much-anticipated digital economy strategy, set for release this spring, has likely been delayed until the fall at the very earliest.

While the legislative process may be on hold, the election campaign offers Canadians the chance to raise the profile of Internet and digital issues even further by voting for the Internet. The Internet is obviously not a political party, but a vote for the Internet means asking candidates for their views on the country’s top digital issues:

1. Global surveys consistently give Canada a middling to poor rank for wireless and broadband Internet services. What would you do to enhance Canada’s Internet competitiveness?  How would you ensure that all Canadians have access to affordable broadband networks?

2. Where do you stand on usage based billing, the Internet metering policies employed by Canada’s large Internet providers that sparked a political firestorm last month when over 450,000 Canadians signed a petition protesting the practice? What are your views on a general principle of an open Internet, with support for network neutrality and open access rules that allow smaller Internet providers to compete?

3. Over the past year, Canada has witnessed increasing vertical integration among its large broadcasters and broadcast distributors, with the mergers of Shaw and Canwest Global as well as Bell and CTVglobemedia. Where do you stand on vertical integration and prospect for dominant players retaining exclusivity over valuable content to the detriment of other competitors?

4. Canada is scheduled to complete the digital television transition on August 31, 2011. What are you prepared to do to ensure that Canadians won’t lose their signals when broadcasters flip the digital switch?

5. The digital television transition will free up valuable spectrum that can be used for new wireless broadband services. Would you create a set-aside for new entrants in the spectrum auction to facilitate greater competition?  Would you remove foreign ownership restrictions to allow new bidders to enter the Canadian market? Would you commit to reallocating spectrum proceeds to Internet policy issues?

6. The government unveiled a new open government initiative days before the election that makes thousands of data sets freely available and mandates greater disclosures of completed access to information requests. It’s a good start, but Canada’s system still features more restrictive licensing than comparable initiatives in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. What would you do to further enhance open government?

7. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has spoken openly about the need for stronger enforcement tools, including order making power, penalties for privacy breaches, and naming names of privacy violators.  Do you support such reforms?

8. The lawful access initiative, which would allow for increased Internet surveillance, died on the order paper last week. Assuming the issue is revived, do you support implementing safeguards that mandate court oversight before Internet providers are required to disclose customer information to law enforcement?

9. Copyright legislation proved among the most controversial initiatives in the last Parliament.  If copyright reform returns to the legislative agenda, do you support changes to the digital lock provisions to allow Canadians to circumvent locks for non-infringing purposes such as changing formats of a DVD or making a backup copy of an e-book?

10. Canadian cultural groups have expressed concerns about their ability to adapt to the Internet environment. What policies or programs do you support to foster a robust Canadian culture online?  Do you support the CRTC’s new media decision that adopts a hands-off approach to broadcasting on the Internet?

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at

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