Canadians could be forgiven for thinking that the policies associated Cancon in a digital world largely wrapped up with the release of the government’s policy in September. Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly spent months crisscrossing the country, meeting with hundreds of stakeholders, and ultimately delivering a high profile policy that featured the much-debated Netflix commitment alongside various plans to support the sector. While Joly also promised reviews of the Broadcasting Act, Telecommunications Act, and Copyright Act, she puzzlingly re-opened the very issue she had just decided by issuing an Order-in-Council to the CRTC to examine (yet again) policies associated with broadcasting.
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
Digital Cancon, the Sequel: CRTC Broadcast Consult Sparks Demands for Everything from Internet and iPod Taxes to Website Blocking to Abandoning Net Neutrality
The Canadaland report on Bell’s plans to apply to the CRTC to create a website blocking agency unsurprisingly sparked immediate widespread concern. I provided further detail on the proposal, noting the danger of establishing a blocking system without court review of the block list and the very weak case Bell makes to justify it. A critical aspect of the Bell proposal is that it must convince the CRTC that website blocking would further Canada’s telecommunications policy objectives. Given that the CRTC has already ruled that the law prohibits blocking without its approval, that is a difficult standard to meet. I argue that the three justifications raised by Bell – that piracy “threatens the social and economic fabric of Canada”, that the telecommunications system should “encourage compliance with Canadian laws” and that website blocking “will significantly contribute toward the protection of the privacy of Canadian Internet users” – is very weak.
In fact, the privacy argument is not only weak, it is incredibly hypocritical. Bell is arguably the worst major Canadian telecom company on user privacy and its attempt to justify website blocking on the grounds that it wants to protect privacy is shameful. There are obviously far better ways of protecting user privacy from risks on the Internet than blocking access to sites that might create those risks. Further, with literally millions of sites that pose some privacy risk, few would argue that the solution lies in blocking all of them.
Canadaland reports today that Bell is leading a coalition that plans to file a proposal with the CRTC that would lead to the creation a mandatory website blocking system in Canada. The unprecedented proposal, which includes the creation of a new “Internet Piracy Review Agency”, envisions the creation of mandatory block lists without judicial review to be enforced by the CRTC. As a result, the companies (reportedly including Rogers and Cineplex) envision sweeping new Internet regulations with the CRTC ultimately charged with enforcing site blocking by every Internet provider in Canada. I reviewed the proposal in order to provide comments to the Canadaland.
Earlier this week I appeared on CBC’s On the Money to discuss the U.S. decision to abandon net neutrality and its implications for Canada. I’ve written about these issues in columns and posts, but this interview provided the opportunity to highlight the implications for Canadian business and consumers, the prospect of including net neutrality in future Telecommunications Act reforms, the connection to NAFTA, and the ongoing concerns with telecom competitiveness in Canada. The interview is embedded below.
This week’s announcement that the U.S. telecommunications regulator plans to roll back net-neutrality regulations sparked an immediate backlash from those who fear that the decision will turn the Internet into a cable-like service dominated by the carriers and deep-pocketed giants that can afford to pay new fees to keep their content on the fast lane.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that the U.S. order, which would also block states from carrying out their own versions of policies that stop telecom carriers from leveraging their gatekeeper status by treating similar content or applications differently, is set for a vote next month.