US Internet Debacle a Wakeup Call for Canada

For Immediate Release: August 9, 2010

Yesterday, Google and Verizon released a "joint policy proposal" outlining a framework for the future regulation of internet service in the US. The proposal comes just days after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
announced it was abandoning its own efforts to develop a plan through negotiations with leading phone, cable and internet companies. The timing of these two events suggests that the Google/Verizon proposal is the end result of longstanding policy neglect concerning internet openness rules, and increases pressure on Canadian policymakers to act quickly and decisively in favour of net neutrality.

The terms of the proposal, published by Google in a blog post titled "A Joint Policy for an Open Internet," have outraged US public interest groups like FreePress and drawn criticism from the FCC, which has issued a response stressing the need to reassert regulatory authority and serve the needs of citizens not corporations. Net neutrality policy development in the US now seems more convoluted and precarious than it has been in years.

The FCC’s failed process for developing net neutrality policy and the resulting attempt by Verizon and Google to develop public policy themselves should be a lesson for Canadian policymakers. When public policy dramatically lags behind the needs of citizens, the situation can spin out of control as it has in the US.

OpenMedia.ca and the SaveOurNet.ca coalition believe the crisis in US digital policy should be a wake-up call for Canadian policymakers and citizens.

Steve Anderson, National Coordinator of OpenMedia.ca and the SaveOurNet.ca coalition, said today: “The Google/Verizon proposal has been put forward due to a vacuum of leadership, initiative and follow-through from US regulators. Here in Canada we’re ahead of the US in that we have some net neutrality guidelines for both wired and wireless devices – but, crucially, we still don’t yet have net neutrality in actual practice. Industry Minister Tony Clement has been asleep at the switch on this issue for too long. In order to have real net neutrality we need to ensure, through regular audits, that internet service providers are not discriminating against certain types of traffic. Policymakers like Clement need to stop stalling and make the open internet a reality.”

OpenMedia.ca and the SaveOurNet.ca coalition call on Industry Minister Tony Clement to mandate audits of ISP traffic management. Canadians can support this call at: http://saveournet.ca/action.

Contact:

Steve Anderson

OpenMedia.ca

National Coordinator

604-837-5730

contact@openmedia.ca

About OpenMedia.ca

OpenMedia.ca is a national, non-partisan, non-profit public engagement organization working to advance and support an open and innovative communications system in Canada. Our primary goal is to increase public awareness and informed participation in Canadian media, cultural, information, and telecommunication policy formation.

About the SaveOurNet.ca Coalition

SaveOurNet.ca is a coalition of citizens, businesses, and public interest groups fighting to protect our internet's level playing field. We're calling on lawmakers and industry to protect openness, choice, and access for ALL Canadians, and stopping lobbyists and special interests from ruining Canada's internet.

Background: Canada

On October 22 2009, the CRTC took an important step in the right direction by putting forward open internet ("traffic management") guidelines. On June 30 2010 the CRTC extended its Traffic Management rules to mobile wireless data services. This ruling was made in response to requests by OpenMedia.ca through its partner The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). Both the Liberals and NDP have come out in support of net neutrality in recent years.

While these are clear signs of positive momentum for ensuring internet openness in Canada, as it stands right now ISPs have not yet been told to stop throttling access to the open internet. Furthermore, under the current CRTC guidelines, the onus falls on the consumer to file a complaint and to prove that an ISP is unjustly throttling traffic. It is unfair to force consumers to go head to head over and over again with some of the most powerful businesses in the country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement have had closed-door meetings with representatives from the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). ITAC is Canada's most powerful lobby group for the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Between January and November 2009, ITAC reported 21 meetings with top federal officials and cabinet ministers involved in developing national digital policies.

Background: Google/Verizon Proposal

The Google/Verizon proposal does present some important provisions that will help ensure an open internet in the US. However, it also excludes mobile access to the internet through smart phones and other devices from oversight. Increasingly consumers will use wireless broadband as their preferred medium for internet access. Openness must be inserted into the DNA of mobile internet access.

The proposal also suggests that ISPs should be allowed to offer “differentiated services”. Such services “could make use of or access Internet content, applications or services and could include traffic prioritization.” Allowing ISPs to offer such services creates an incentive to use their bandwidth to provide access to these services through cable television, which reaches citizens’ homes through the same infrastructure as the internet. The result would be bandwidth scarcity on the open public internet, and disproportionate investment in ISP-controlled private internet services. Allowing such services could lead to a backdoor attempt by ISPs to negate open Internet rules.

While vague, less controversial aspects of the proposal include support for reasonable traffic management, non-discrimination and non-prioritization of traffic, and ISP transparency.

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