The revelation that Bell met privately with the CRTC to present its site blocking proposal months before it became public garnered considerable attention yesterday. The internal documents, obtained and posted by the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications, indicate that the groundwork for the site blocking proposal was laid in the summer of 2017, well before public filings or press reports. As far back as July 2017, Bell executives pressed CRTC commissioner Christopher MacDonald for a meeting with all CRTC commissioners and senior staff to make its case for a commission-backed site blocking system.
The CRTC and Bell were asked about the report yesterday by Mobile Syrup. The CRTC responded that there “is nothing procedurally unusual in this case”, noting that stakeholders can raise any issues that are not formally before the commission. In other words, the commission takes the view that companies are free to lobby without limit until the moment of filing, thereby laying the groundwork for a proposal with commissioners and commission staff without having to respond to public commentary. In this case, the presentation led to the drafting an internal legal memo on the issue well before the public filing.
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The Bell website blocking coalition responded to thousands of interventions on its proposal this week, reiterating many of the same claims it has been making since it launched the request with the CRTC. While the commission should provide details on what comes next shortly, according to internal commission documents released […]
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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.
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Among the thousands of interventions at the CRTC to the Bell coalition website blocking plan, one of the submissions that stands out comes from Brian Hutchings, Brock University’s Vice-President, Administration. The submission claims that “Brock ardently supports the FairPlay Canada coalition” adding that “we are committed to assist the members of the coalition and the CRTC in eliminating the theft of digital content.” The submission sparked an immediate campus backlash. The Brock University Faculty Association filed a submission with the CRTC noting:
we stand in opposition to the intervention by Vice President, Administration on behalf of Brock University. Vice-President Hutching’s intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community, including faculty, librarians, and Senate; therefore, his submission should not be seen as indicative of the views of Brock University as a whole.
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When the Bell coalition filed its website blocking application earlier this year, the immediate response from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains was to point to the strength of existing copyright law:
We understand that there are groups, including Bell, calling for additional tools to better fight piracy, particularly in the digital domain. Canada’s copyright system has numerous legal provisions and tools to help copyright owners protect their intellectual property, both online and in the physical realm. We are committed to maintaining one of the best intellectual property and copyright frameworks in the world to support creativity and innovation to the benefit of artists, creators, consumers and all Canadians.
I emphasized the point in my first post making the case against site blocking, arguing that Canada already has many legal provisions designed to assist copyright owners.
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