6 Ways the Canadian Government Could Be Improving Things on the Internet

The governments war on the open Internet has been moving at breakneck speeds. Here’s 6 ways they could be doing things differently.

The Canadian government hates the Internet. They hate everything it represents. Whether it is the bolstering of free speech, the economic opportunities it represents to non establishment players in the country, or the unprecedented access to culture, they hate everything about it. They have been doing everything they can to shut this whole thing down. Whether it is through social media censorship, link taxes, Internet censorship and website shutdowns, circumventing the courts ti re-implement digital frisking at the border, or copyright term extension, they are going to make sure that the usefulness of the Internet is knee capped to the point where it is no different then just watching a standard cable TV station at best. What’s worse is the fact that the government seethes with rage whenever someone even remotely questions the approach as well.

Of course, non of this happened in the vacuum. In fact, this push is almost exclusively thanks to heavy lobbying from corporations. The Liberal party has a very long history of simply hearing what lobbyists have to say and whoever lines their pockets with cash the best. Look no further than what happened the last time the Liberals were in power.

If you can believe it, though, there was a brief time when the government was actually wanting to move forward with the Internet. In fact, Canada had a “digital agenda” in the early days of taking office. Something that was ultimately ejected sometime after the lobbying took place. So, it is not as though they are incapable of moving the government in a positive direction, they just willingly choose not to.

Now, let’s consider the idea of what the government could have been doing all this time instead. What would a forward thinking government be doing all this time? If the government wasn’t putting on a stellar performance of being the bad guys in the debates, what would they be doing instead? This is something we wanted to look at today. So, here are 6 ways the Canadian government could be moving forward in a positive direction with respect to the Internet.

1. Move Forward With Privacy Reform

The term “bill C-11” carries a lot of baggage of it being the social media censorship bill – and rightfully so. Once upon a time, however, Bill C-11 was actually something that received quite a bit of praise. In the previous government bill C-11 was actually Canada’s privacy reform bill. While some felt that the bill could have been tweaked, few would dispute that privacy reform is needed. In fact, it has been badly needed for the better part of a decade now. The reasons for this are about as obvious as being beaten in the face with a giant obvious stick.

For one, whenever companies violate privacy laws currently in place (however outdated they may be), the repercussion for such a violation is, at most, a strongly worded letter from the privacy commissioner. The ol’ “don’t do that again” followed up by finger wagging. That’s it. There’s no blockbuster fines or fines of any kind for that matter. Facebook made this discovery back in 2019 that there really are no consequences of violating Canadian privacy laws. Privacy commissioners knew this and had to step out of their roles as commissioners and into their roles as private citizens in order to sue Facebook. Suffice to say, privacy laws are a joke as they currently stand. With other jurisdictions moving forward, Canada remains in the stone age of privacy laws.

For another, many critics of “big tech” often hit the topic of how people’s personal information are seemingly bought and sold to third parties without oversight. You want to “reign in” “big tech”, that is the way to do it. Are you concerned with how your personal information is being sold on Facebook? Concerned with whether or not Google obtained proper consent while browsing third party websites to use your information? What about when a large company has your personal information stolen because they carelessly left it out in the open in an Amazon bucket? Fines are one way to address this. Establishing minimum best practices for storage and consent is another.

None of this is even a partisan issue. All sides of the political aisle are generally supportive. So, there isn’t even political obstacles with moving forward with this – at least to date that is. Everyone knows that this is badly needed, so why not move forward with it? We honestly don’t know. The bill died on the order paper during the last election. The last thing we heard about this was back in December when Innovation Minister, Fran├žois-Philippe Champagne, paid lip service to the legislation by saying that it is his “top priority“. We were skeptical that this was really all that sincere. With no signs of life shown since, our skepticism was apparently very much justified.

2. Restart the “Digital Charter” Plans

In a similar vein, the Liberal party, back when it had a real plan about the digital world, had something known as a “Digital Charter”. It was supposed to be a package of proposals including some elements of privacy reform and your rights with respect to ISPs and billing among other things.

It was touted in their 2019 platform when they first got elected. Unfortunately, the charter was shelved shortly after the election was over. When the 2021 election hit, the party pulled it off of the shelf, blew the dust off of it, and touted it again in their 2021 party platform. After the votes were cast, the party then proceeded to shelve the plans again. As a result, it earned a reputation of only making appearances when there are votes to be won.

To this day, we have not seen any signs of life on this so-called “Digital Charter”. There were vague promises of what the charter means and how it would be an amazing step forward. Beyond that, it seems to have been relegated to the status of a mythological document that probably doesn’t even exist. It would have been nice to see it move forward and see the nitty gritty details, but that doesn’t appear to be happening.

3. Open Up the Internet Infrastructure to Smaller ISPs That Want In

It’s no secret that the Canadian government has dumped substantial funds into Internet infrastructure. Various subsidies saw that taxpayers paid for the Internet pipes and lines that the large players take for granted today. Unfortunately, it seems as though once the infrastructure is built, control then gets handed over to the largest players after so they can enjoy their monopolistic power even more.

The problem in Canada has long been that competition in the Internet sector has been virtually non-existent thanks to the anti-competitive nature of the current market. In fact, the CRTC, the regulator that is, on paper, supposed to regulate these things, has long ago chosen a path of trying to do everything in its power to re-enforce the monopolistic powers of the largest players. As a result, competition has been very successfully stamped out of the market.

A big way to solve this is by opening up the infrastructure to smaller players. Given that taxpayers pay for the infrastructure being put in place, it makes sense that Canadians be allowed to start a business and access this same infrastructure. So, the logic is sound that it would be open to any player who wishes to start a small business. Europe already does this and it shows. A number of European countries now have higher quality Internet at lower rates as a result partially to this open infrastructure policy. Supporters of the ISP monopolies tried to hide behind population density for a long time now, but that thinking never held up given the nature of where the population is concentrated (re: along the border) among other things.

What effects would the increased competition bring to Canada? More competition would invariably mean better deals, higher quality Internet, better customer service, and more. After all, the ISPs would then have a reason to court your business because if they don’t get you as a customer, then customers would actually have the power to vote with their wallet and go to a competitor. This is something Canadians have long been deprived from. This idea would go a long way into solving this and the Canadian government has the power to get the ball rolling on this. They just haven’t as of yet.

4. Build Up Internet Infrastructure to Increase Access to High Speed Internet in Rural and Indigenous Areas

Of course, it’s one thing to talk about Internet access in more populous regions. It’s quite another to talk about the areas where the population is more sparse. This is sometimes referred to as “last mile” regions. The Liberal party did pledge to move forward on this file by investing in high speed Internet in rural and indigenous regions. This would appear in the form of investments to install Internet infrastructure in regions that don’t have any as well as upgrading the infrastructure in regions that have only insufficient access.

Some might cast this idea off to the side as some “pie in the sky” idea or that it’s just throwing money away for no good reason. The problem with that thinking is that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that such projects would actually be beneficial to the overall economy. In 2019, a study suggested that the digital divide between urban centres and indigenous communities is holding the Canadian economy back. Entrepreneurship is a big thing in indigenous communities. Throughout the pandemic, many turned to the Internet as a way of trying to keep working. Some in indigenous communities have moved forward with trying to start an online business. Success did follow a number of them.

The thinking is pretty straight forward. What would happen is an indigenous community of 500 people had access to high quality high speed Internet? Someone in that community might actually start a business that takes off. This would mean money is flowing into that community. Jobs would then ensue and lift a number of people out of poverty in the process. That would mean more people are productive in Canada and the Canadian economy would ultimately benefit as well.

Further, if you want to talk a big game about reconciliation, wouldn’t this be one way to move forward with reconciliation? Essentially, giving the same opportunities to these communities that people in more urban settings take for granted. What an incredible way of moving forward: benefit the economy, benefit these communities, and move forward with reconciliation all at the same time. At the moment, we’re all still waiting on this.

5. Implement the Copyright Application System Instead of the Blanket Copyright Term Extension

During an apparently inadequate copyright consultation process, many experts and scholars proposed a solution to the copyright problem in the USMCA. That problem is the demand to extend copyright terms from the international standard norm of life plus 50 years to the more extreme length of life plus 70 years. While these obligations are, indeed, voluntary, it seems that the government simply wanted to move forward with it anyway.

The experts, however, had a great point: why not go down a middle road? It’s well known that extending copyright terms is, in fact, harmful for the Canadian economy. It just locks away culture for another 20 years while handing a free gift to large corporations who are more interested in buying and selling the rights of legacy content rather than investing in new art for tomorrow. It makes no sense to keep extending copyright term for legacy corporations that operate outside of the country.

The middle of the road approach would make much more sense. In short, if a corporation wants that additional 20 years of copyright protection, then that corporation can simply submit an application for it. It doesn’t even have to be that complex. Just a raised hand that says, “I want that extra protection”. They can have it. The result is that all that dead wood of other works can finally settle down into the public domain. This would allow the cycle of creativity to continue where new works can be built out of works falling into the public domain. While it doesn’t allow all works to go into the public domain, everyone does win in all of this in the end.

Sadly, the government has ignored this sound advice.

6. Study Ways of Helping Internet Entrepreneurs Get Their Businesses Off the Ground (Like Digital First Creators, App Developers, etc.)

When someone starts a business, there’s a lot of thinking that goes into this. The old way of thinking is that the business needs to have some floor space – be it at the home or renting out a building. From there, the business can then try and do what it can to stay afloat and even become prosperous one day.

With the Internet of today, however, that floor space is barely even required. Sometimes, it can be as simple as a single desktop computer. It might even be little more than someone’s cell phone.

The truth is that there are different ways people can go into business. Sometimes, it’s just starting a YouTube channel. Other times, it’s creating a TikTok account. Sometimes, one can go a little more “oldschool” like us and actually go through the trouble of starting up a whole new website. There are different strategies for different businesses. Any one of them have a chance to succeed.

There is one particularly delicate point in time where a business struggles. That is the bridge between someone putting together a passion project and a full business being implemented with staff. Many who are in this boat don’t necessarily have the resources to work the system and figure out what government programs are out there that could benefit them. If they did, chances are, they are more focused on working the system rather than building up a product that consumers want to utilize.

The Canadian government can take a number of approaches to make this bridging process easier. One way is to look at existing programs and see which ones would apply to people in these situations. If they do exist, put together information on how such people could utilize these programs to get these potential and small businesses to succeed. If there are gaps in the system, then maybe look at what kinds of government programs can be implement to aid the process of getting would-be entrepreneurs to succeed.

Canadian’s are quite big in the digital entrepreneurship space considering the population. Rather than doing everything possible to make their lives harder, the government could be doing what it can to make these people’s lives easier. This is a fantastic way to do so.

Conclusions

When the Liberals were first elected, they had a somewhat correct mind set on how to move Canada into a digital powerhouse on the Internet. The abandonment of this approach was a massive disappointment. It’s even more distressing to see that the government’s core mission has also turned to tearing the whole Internet in Canada down. The government could be on Canada’s side with any combination of these ideas (or taking them all wholesale, I don’t mind at all!). Instead, they have made it clear that they are on the side of legacy corporations and declared war on the open Internet. I submit that if the Canadian government had a line of thinking similar to what we are presenting here, we’d all be in a much better place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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