Canadian Negotiator Reaffirms Government Commitment to Network Neutrality

With tensions on the rise over a dwindling future for the Internet in the United States, a Canadian NAFTA negotiator suggests that Canada is still committed to ensuring the Internet remains open.

The battle to keep the Internet open continues to rage on in the United States. With the FCC vote expected to come down later this month, some are looking to other countries to see what their commitment is to the open Internet now that the US government is poised to kill it. Some are looking to Canada. Given the geographical location as well as some of the cultural similarities, it’s a first choice to look to for a number of people.

Last month, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his concerns over Americas attack on the open Internet. From the Business News Network:

Speaking to reporters, Trudeau said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s plan to roll back Obama-era legislation barring Internet service providers from slowing down or blocking consumer access to content was deeply worrisome.

“I am very concerned about the attacks on net neutrality,” he said Wednesday. “Net neutrality is something that is essential for small businesses, for consumers, it’s essential to keep the freedom associated with the Internet alive.”

The American plan has attracted widespread opposition from Silicon Valley, with a group representing Google parent company Alphabet and Facebook urging the FCC to drop plans to scrap net neutrality. Many argue that without neutrality enshrined in law, incumbent Internet providers will threaten the very openness of the Internet.

Against this backdrop, Trudeau said he will fight tooth and nail to defend net neutrality.

“The idea of throttling certain sites or charging extra for certain services just does not make sense; and if we are going to continue to ensure that technology, and particularly digital technology and the use of the Internet, is the lever to create economic growth and opportunities for citizens right across this country, we need to continue to defend net neutrality. And I will.”

The news allayed fears that Canada would follow suit. Throughout history, there are many examples, both good and bad, where whenever the United States makes a regulatory decision, Canada simply follows suit. So, it’s understandable that when the United States says that it plans on eliminating the rules that protect the open Internet, some feared Canada would just blindly follow suit. Of course, with the reassurances of the Prime Minister, many thought that the policy would stop at the Canada US border.

Fears were then quickly renewed when two of Canada’s three major ISPs were found to either proposing or planning to propose Internet censorship regimes earlier this week. Bell Canada was found drafting a proposal that would create a list that would mandate ISPs to block access over a mere accusation of copyright infringement. Shortly after, we also learned that Shaw made a similar proposition, only that such a list receive court oversight.

Those propositions renewed fears that the promises to defend network neutrality might fade into a lobbying abyss. Today, a Canadian negotiator for the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) trade talks said that Canada still remains committed to network neutrality. He went further by saying that Canada is currently trying to enshrine network neutrality in the trade talks. From Michael Geist:

Steve Verheul, Canada’s lead NAFTA negotiator, appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade earlier this week to provide an update on the negotiations. In addition to confirming Canada’s commitment to a cultural exception (Verheul acknowledged that the U.S. “has not reacted positively”), Verheul was asked about the digital trade chapter. He indicated that there has been significant progress on issues such as online consumer protection and privacy. He also touched on two other issues: one a Canadian ask and the other a U.S. priority.

From a Canadian perspective, Verheul said that Canada wants a net neutrality provision included in NAFTA, noting:

We are including provisions such as online consumer protection to ensure that that is provided for and we also have provisions to provide personal information protection, which we feel is essential in this kind of trade, along with our position that we want to protect net neutrality when it comes to digital trade.

So, it seems that Canada is still firmly in support of an open Internet. While there is still reason to be concerned that the damage caused by eliminating rules protecting the open Internet in the US can still be felt in Canada, it does appear that there is no indication that Canada will follow suit at this time.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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