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. Recommendation #2:
That, in the event that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission supports FairPlay Canada’s application, the federal government consider using the authority provided under section 12 of the Telecommunications Act to ask the CRTC to reconsider its decision.
The committee asked Bell and Rogers about the site blocking proposal during their appearance. The companies argued that it did not implicate net neutrality, but the committee was unconvinced. The report states:
The Committee recognizes that it has received limited evidence on the Fair Play proposal and that the CRTC will decide on the application, after having considered all of the submissions it has received. However, the Committee is of the view that the proposal could impede the application of net neutrality in Canada, and that in their testimony, the ISPs did not present sufficient explanation as to why the existing process is inadequate or sufficient justification to support to application. The Committee also remains skeptical about the absence of judicial oversight in the Fair Play proposal and is of the view that maintaining such oversight is critical.
Therefore, the Committee is concerned that, in the event that the CRTC accepts FairPlay Canada’s application, net neutrality may be eroded in Canada by allowing Internet content blocking and censorship. These concepts are at odds with net neutrality, which ensures an open Internet.
The report, which received support from all political parties, then notes that the government has the power to ask the CRTC to vary, rescind, or refer back a decision. That power led to the recommendation that the government exercise that power should the CRTC approve the proposal. With all parties joining in a recommendation against the site blocking plan, the report represents a strong signal that the FairPlay coalition plan led by Bell does not have political support given that it raises freedom of expression, due process, and net neutrality concerns.