A pro-Internet Top 10 to do list for James Moore

Ensuring Canada has an accessible, affordable, surveillance-free, and open Internet is essential for our economy, culture, and global competitiveness.

We now have a new, heavyweight Industry Minister in James Moore – someone with the power and influence to take on Canada’s entrenched Big Telecom giants. Expectations for Minister Moore are high, with citizens expecting him to deliver real change to ensure that all Canadians can enjoy fast, affordable, and ubiquitous Internet service.

OpenMedia.ca has worked with thousands of Canadians across the country to develop a clear action plan for a connected Canada - a plan Canadians expect Minister Moore to implement through the government’s long-awaited Digital Economy Strategy.

Here are ten actions Minister Moore should take if he wants to leave a lasting positive legacy for Canadian Internet users:

1. Open Canada’s networks to independent Internet providers

According to independent OECD reports, Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for Internet access. These high prices are acting as a dead weight on our economy, hampering innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

We need bold action from the government to improve choice in our Internet market, which is currently dominated by just a few huge conglomerates. Minister Moore should follow the successful example of the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand by opening up Canada’s wired networks to independent service providers.

Policy wonks call this idea ‘structural separation’ because it involves separating a big telecom company’s infrastructure from its retail operations. This would mean that giant telecom companies would no longer be able to discriminate against smaller providers by, for example, charging them extortionate fees to access Canada’s networks.

The U.K. opened their networks through functional separation in 2005 with successful results – the move spurred lowered broadband prices, and offered a much wider range of choices for Internet service, boosting Internet usage across the country.

This is one of the most practical steps Minister Moore can take to ensure that our smaller, more affordable ISPs can operate on a level playing field with our telecom giants. As other industrialized nations are taking this action for more choice in the Internet service market, let’s not let Canada fall behind.

Canadians can also play their part by considering switching to a more affordable provider themselves – we’ve created this easy-to-use tool to help Canadians ‘make the switch’.

2. Stimulate the economy by bringing fast Internet access to all Canadians

Canada’s 21st century economy depends on all Canadians having affordable access to fast and reliable Internet. The federal government should invest proceeds from the forthcoming auction of valuable wireless spectrum into ensuring that all Canadians have access to 21st century Internet infrastructure.

Investment decisions should be guided by public interest criteria and made in consultation with citizens and, where appropriate, forward-thinking local governments.

To get the best value for this investment, projects should only be funded if they are open access networks. Any subsidies for existing providers should ensure that those providers guarantee minimum levels of service in the subsidized markets.

3. Implement tower-sharing and affordable roaming rates for independent wireless providers

Over 60,000 Canadians have spoken out to demand greater choice and affordability in our wireless market. We pay some of the highest rates in the industrialized world for mobile Internet. One of the greatest barriers for new entrants seeking to offer greater choice in our wireless market are the large upfront investments required for network infrastructures - such as towers, base stations and spectrum licences.

Minister Moore should mandate the CRTC to require carriers to provide wholesale access and resale roaming to allow new companies to enter the market without the need to create an entirely new Canada-wide system. This would allow innovative new entrants to operate on a level playing field with larger, more established providers. Wholesale access could be particularly useful to provide service options to rural and remote regions of Canada.

4. Protect net neutrality by introducing severe penalties for Internet service discrimination

Net neutrality is the idea that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. This vitally important founding principle of the Internet helps drive economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It’s under threat from greedy telecoms and media conglomerates who want to privilege their content over that of others.

Internet users want to see Minister Moore take action to protect net neutrality – such as by introducing audits and severe financial penalties for Internet service discrimination. He can start by amending the CRTC Act to permit the CRTC to levy administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) that can be used to enforce transparency requirements and regulations.

This would ensure that users are able to freely decide which applications they run on their Internet connection, no matter which device or pricing tier they choose.

5. Improve the accountability and protect the independence of the CRTC

The best guarantee of an open Internet is a policy-making process that is open, citizen-centered, and public-interest oriented. The government should direct the CRTC to ensure the creation of open, accessible and neutral networks and maximize user preference.

Canadians also deserve to see greater transparency in how members of the CRTC are appointed. Minister Moore needs to ensure broader stakeholder and citizen participation in the appointment process of CRTC commissioners.

In the interests of accountability and transparency, the government should also show how all new appointments ranked in an overall scorecard based on the must-have and should-have
criteria listed in CRTC job postings. These criteria should include significant experience in the public interest or Internet user advocacy community.

These steps would go a long way to ensuring the CRTC is accountable, independent, and citizen-focused.

6. Lower the cost of wireless Internet by opening our networks to independent Canadian providers

Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for Internet access, whether it is wired or wireless. Over 93% of our wireless market is controlled by just three giant conglomerates – a situation that has tens of thousands of Canadians speaking out to demand greater choice.

The best long-term solution for choice and lower prices is for Minister Moore to open Canada’s locked-down wireless networks to independent new service providers. This would mean innovative Canadian providers such as Toronto-based Ting.com could offer affordable services to Canadians without needing to build an entire nationwide network of their own.

Open networks are the best way to ensure choice and affordability – as the experience of the UK, Australia, and New Zealand has proven. Canadians are looking to Minister Moore to take action on our crowd-sourced road map forward for our wireless market.

7. Protecting our online privacy by withdrawing the online spying provisions in Bill C-12

The future of Canada’s digital economy depends on Canadians having affordable access to an open and surveillance-free Internet. Recent revelations of blanket spying on everyday Internet activities have shocked Canadians and have made many think twice before sharing content or doing business online.

Nobody wants to be spied on when conducting business online - it undermines Canadians’ confidence in the future of our digital economy. For this reason, Minister Moore should withdraw the online spying provisions from Bill C-12 - a bill which, as privacy expert Michael Geist points out, would make organizations “more likely to disclose private information without a warrant during investigations”.

As our own Catherine Hart and Josh Tabish write: “Bill C-12 threatens to further erode the protections we do have. Canadians need guarantees that telecom companies and online service providers will not surrender our private information to authorities without court oversight.”

Minister Moore also needs to be a strong voice in Cabinet against any proposed legislation that would allow warrantless access to our everyday Internet use along the lines of the failed Bill C-30 – the online spying bill that was defeated after over 150,000 Canadians spoke out against it. Agree? Call on your MP to take a stand against costly online spying.

8. Mandate regular ISP openness audits for wired and wireless

Canada needs objective, reliable, open and understandable ISP data to use, plan and invest in new applications. Canadians want to see Minister Moore mandate regular ISP openness audits, measuring traffic management practices, average speeds (as is measured in the U.K. and the U.S.), billing practices (to tackle reports of ISPs mis-measuring usage and overbilling customers), congestion, and regional broadband speed levels.

9. Tackle Canada’s Digital Divide by prioritising investment in Internet access for low-income Canadians and residents of Northern Canada

According to Statistics Canada, only 46% of Canadians in the lowest income quartile have access to the Internet in their homes. This contrasts with 97% of Canadians in the top income quartile who have home Internet access.

We need clear action from the Minister to ensure that all low-income Canadians have home access to the Internet at a rate they can afford. Why not fund programs to improve Internet access through revenues raised from the upcoming auction of valuable wireless spectrum?

Residents of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut also face unique challenges when it comes to Internet access. The cost of Internet access in Arctic Canada can be three to five times higher than in urban Canada – and even that hefty bill buys download speeds that are a fraction of what urban Canadians are used to.

Minister Moore should listen to what residents of the territories are saying about the need for a long-term, sustainable solution to their connectivity needs. This could, for example, be through investment in community-driven broadband services which place the needs of users, rather than telecom companies, first and foremost.

10. Invest in city-wide open wireless Internet access initiatives

Imagine being able to travel the length and breadth of your local town centre without ever needing to worry about being in range of a reliable Internet connection. Well that’s the reality in Fredericton, NB which has created a fast and open Wi-Fi network throughout much of the city. The network now includes over 1200 Wi-Fi Access Points and is free to use for residents, visitors, and business people alike.

With Olds, AB installing lightning-fast fibre Internet, and Fredericton, NB leading the way with free community Wi-Fi, Minister Moore should draw inspiration from these examples of pioneering local governance. What’s possible in Olds and Fredericton should surely be possible in towns and cities right across Canada – so long as the political will is there to drive these ideas forward.

Do you agree it’s time for action to ensure that all Canadians have access to fast, affordable, surveillance-free, and reliable Internet? Speak up today by using this easy-to-use online tool to send our Action Plan for a Connected Canada to your MP and urge them to take action.

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