The CRTC yesterday released its wholesale Internet rates decision, shocking the industry and consumer groups by reversing its 2019 ruling and virtually guaranteeing increased costs for consumers and less competition for Internet services. Indeed, within hours, TekSavvy, one of the largest independent providers, announced that it was withdrawing from the forthcoming spectrum auction and would no longer offer mobile services. In other words, the competitive and consumer cost reverberations from the decision will impact both broadband and wireless services. When the increased costs coming from Bill C-10 for Internet services are added to the equation, the Internet could get a lot more expensive in Canada.
Much of the blame rests with the government as it appointed CRTC Chair Ian Scott, who has presided over a dismantling of a pro-consumer, pro-innovative policy approach. Moreover, the former ISED Minister Navdeep Bains opened the door to this decision last summer by inviting the CRTC to re-examine the 2019 decision and current ISI Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is seemingly completely uninterested in his own department’s digital files. I’ve written that this government has become the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history and the path that led to yesterday’s decision vaults to near the top of the evidence list.
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The Liberals led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were first elected in 2015 on a platform that emphasized transparency, consultation, and innovation. The signals were everywhere: it released ministerial mandate letters to demonstrate transparency, renamed the Minister of Industry to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to point to the importance of an innovative economy, and soon after the cabinet was sworn in, Canadians were awash in public consultations (I recall participating in an almost instant consult on the Trans Pacific Partnership). With promises of entrenching net neutrality, prioritizing innovation, focusing on privacy rather than surveillance, and supporting freedom of expression, the government left little doubt about its preferred policy approach.
As I watched Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault yesterday close the Action Summit to Combat Online Hate, I was left with whiplash as I thought back to those early days. Today’s Liberal government is unrecognizable by comparison as it today stands the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history:
- As it moves to create the Great Canadian Internet Firewall, net neutrality is out and mandated Internet blocking is in.
- Freedom of expression and due process is out, quick takedowns without independent review and increased liability are in.
- Innovation and new business models are out, CRTC regulation is in.
- Privacy reform is out, Internet taxation is in.
- Prioritizing consumer Internet access and affordability is out, reduced competition through mergers are in.
- And perhaps most troublingly, consultation and transparency are out, secrecy is in.
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When the proposed Rogers – Shaw merger was announced last month, it immediately became a flashpoint for Canada’s ongoing debate over wireless competition and pricing. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology moved quickly to put the proposed merger under the microscope with hearings that have included Rogers and Shaw along with academics, competitors, and regulators. I was invited to appear before the committee and provide my take on the implications of the merger. This week’s Law Bytes podcast goes inside the virtual hearing room with my short opening statement followed by clips of the Q &A with several Members of Parliament.
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Earlier this year, the Canadian government launched a timid consultation on copyright term extension. After years of rejecting copyright term extension beyond the international law standard of life of the author plus 50 years, the Canadian government caved to pressure from the United States by agreeing to the equivalent of life of the author plus 70 years in the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA). With a 30 month transition period to allow for consultation, this represents an opportunity to mitigate against the harms of term extension.
I submitted my response last night and it is posted here. The submission cites a wide range of experts – including Justice Minister David Lametti and former US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante for the proposition that registration for the additional 20 years is not only permissible under international law, it is desirable. I also include a lengthy appendix of the some of the Canadian authors and leaders whose works will not enter the public domain if term is extended. These include Gabrielle Roy, Marshall McLuhan, Margaret Laurence, Louis St. Laurent, John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, René Lévesque, Jean Lesage, John Robarts, and Bora Laskin.
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Last November, then Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains introduced Bill C-11, long overdue privacy reform. The bill appeared to be a top government priority, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emphasizing that the new law would give Canadians more control over how companies handle their personal information. While the bill isn’t perfect – I wrote posts on some of the benefits and concerns – there was no debating that it represented an important step forward in modernizing Canada’s privacy law.
Yet months after the bill was introduced, it is seemingly going nowhere.
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