With just over a year to go before the 2019 Canadian national election, the upcoming fall Parliamentary session will undoubtedly feature a renewed urgency to pass legislative proposals and craft new policies that will form the basis for future election platforms. Digital issues will surely feature prominently including the copyright review and Copyright Board reform, website blocking proposals, privacy safeguards, the broadcast and telecom review, a national data policy, and the implementation of the IP strategy. The same is true elsewhere with Europe to again consider copyright reform, the U.S. assessing privacy rules, and many other countries engaged in digital policy initiatives. However, just as the broader public is finding its voices on these issues with policy submissions, petitions, and efforts to ensure that a public interest perspective is a core part of the process, the traditional lobby groups that have long dominated the policy discourse are steadily working to undermine those efforts with cries of user voices being “mob-driven“, “hacking“, or “disinformation.”
Net Neutrality And Creative Freedom (Tim Wu at re:publica 2010) by Anna Lena Schiller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/7VfazT
Maximum Mudslinging: How Powerful Lobby Groups Are Working to Sideline Civil Society Voices on Digital Policy
The Quebec Superior Court has ruled that the provincial rules creating a mandated ISP blocking system for unlicensed online gambling sites is unconstitutional. The provincial government introduced the rules in 2015, which create a list of unlicensed sites that ISPs must block or face financial penalties. While the government tried to frame the blocking system as a health and safety measure, it was always obvious from its own documentation that the plan was primarily focused on increasing revenues of Loto-Quebec, a provincially licensed online gambling site.
The Canadian government has released its response to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics report on net neutrality. The report featured a strong endorsement of net neutrality and raised concerns with Bell’s site blocking proposal. The government response emphasizes its support for net neutrality, highlighting the current legal framework. While the response does not directly address the site blocking proposal (noting it would inappropriate to comment on a case currently before the CRTC), it reiterates that it has the power to vary, rescind, or refer a CRTC decision back for reconsideration, perhaps a signal that a CRTC decision favouring site blocking could face a government response to rescind or review.
The 1980s CRTC: The Commission Turns Back the Clock with Old-Style Regulation and Privileged Insider Access
The CRTC was long perceived by many Canadians as a captured regulator, largely inaccessible to the public as it dispensed decisions that safeguarded incumbents from disruptive competition. That reputation was buttressed by initial decisions on regulating Internet telephony, permitting Bell to engage in Internet throttling, and supporting a usage based billing approach that hampered competition. In recent years, some policies changed with the adoption of net neutrality regulations and the efforts of former chair Jean-Pierre Blais to prioritize consumer interests. Yet over the past few months, the CRTC under new chair Ian Scott seems determined to turn back the clock with a commission more comfortable with industry stakeholders and their priorities than consumer groups and facilitating competition.