The protection of net neutrality in Canada has been a source of pride. Now, comments by the CRTC chairman are raising concerns.
Network neutrality in North America is quite an interesting situation. In Canada, the government is finding itself to be a staunch supporter of the concept. In direct contrast, the US government is doing everything to destroy network neutrality. This contrast has been quite notable for well over a year now.
So, the regulatory realities of Canada suggests Canada is open for business and embraces innovation. However, could attitudes be beginning to change? While there is no indication of that at the federal level, the same cannot be said at the regulatory level. The chairperson at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recently made some comments that have left some people asking if the regulator is opening to the door to weakening network neutrality:
The Telecommunications Act provides the CRTC with the tools and flexibility to establish and enforce a net neutrality framework. The framework we have built over the past 10 years will likely be tested as needs and technology continue to evolve. There may indeed be situations relating to public safety or security, telemedicine or self-driving cars where a certain flexibility will be required and should therefore be maintained in the legislation.
Michael Geist responded to these remarks: “Flexibility in this context is clearly a reference to weakening net neutrality rules to allow for non-neutral applications. Pointing to issues such as telemedicine or autonomous vehicles comes directly out of the Internet provider playbook as U.S. providers used it to support gutting net neutrality rules in 2017 and Canadian providers promoted the issue before a House of Commons committee in 2018.”
This would appear to mark a shift in attitude towards innovation in Canada even if it is a small shift. The immediate worry is that a comment could lead to a broader effort to undermine Canada’s ability to be an innovative country. ISPs would certainly be quite interested in being able to traffic shape based on whether or not a service is a competitor or not.
The question Canadians should be asking themselves is whether or not they would abandon the Canadian approach in favour of what the American Trump administration is currently doing. At the moment, things are looking quite severe in the US as American’s are seemingly seeing the writing on the wall and fleeing to VPN services just to protect their ability to access the open Internet.
For innovators and creators, the hope is that this is just a one-off blip and that network neutrality, a major factor in building a foundation for innovation and free speech, will continue to be protected in the country. Unfortunately, there is no real way to know for sure unless there is further movement on this file.