Neutral Platform Does Not Necessarily a Neutral Net Equal
Network Neutrality (or Net Neutrality), simplified here for the sake of brevity, is the design principle presently applied to the Internet, which upholds the principle of restriction-free access to residential broadband networks, freedom to connect any kind of equipment, communicate on any platform and transmit any kind of content. It is the core democratizing design principle of the Internet as we know it today. It is what allows news agencies such as this one to provide a viable alternative to mainstream media outlets.
Net Neutrality has become much talked about and debated recently, as it may soon be ending, and this is what makes it one of the most important issues not discussed in this election. Proponents of net neutrality fear that ISPs are moving toward providing fast service for those who could afford a premium, and slower for everyone else. With user traffic increasing and multimedia content elements becoming larger, ISPs claim that bandwidths are being over-filled and that they have a congestion problem. Major providers Bell and Rogers have said they need to shape the traffic from certain platforms, such as BitTorrent, which they claim abuses the free access to bandwidth, and that they cannot afford to provide enough bandwidth for today’s increasing needs. Cory Doctorow has asserted that claims like this are nonsense, as all ISPs are already paid by Internet companies for delivery of content to customers, who also pay a fee.
With an electoral contest that was dominated by concerns about the economy only days away, I find myself wondering what the two likeliest parties to form a government plan to do with this important issue. Only two of the major parties have official platforms that deal with the ubiquitous presence of digital media and particularly concerning network neutrality. Here is a breakdown:
The Green Party of Canada outlines in their platform a statement supportive of the free flow of information. They explicitly state that they would pass legislation prohibiting ISPs from discriminating against content or platforms, freeing them from liability regarding copyright infringement.
The NDP introduced a private members bill last May purporting to firmly establish network neutrality, and have included a relatively comprehensive Internet policy on the cultural considerations section of their platform. They claim to support the principle of network neutrality.
The Liberals have remained ambiguous. I could not find anything in their platform relating to digital issues. However, when I posed the question of Net Neutrality to my local MLA, Don Bell of North Vancouver, his spokesperson said that he supported a free and equitable Internet. Liberal industry critic Scott Brison has been careful not to state a position on the topic until he understands more about it.
The Conservatives have a general policy regarding copyright protection, though it does not specifically mention digital issues, though the two topics are inseparable as last session’s introduction of the failed Bill C-61 illustrated. They do not reveal their stance on any other digital issues or net neutrality on their platform. A Conservative Party spokesperson told me that the party’s priority before the election was passing C-61 in order to align Canada with the WIPO treaties, to which it was a signatory, and that Jim Prentice had alluded to other digital issues being dealt with later. Without an official policy on these issues, it makes it difficult for voters concerned with these issues to know who to vote for, particularly if they are Conservative or Liberal supporters.
I suggest calling your local candidates’ offices and asking the staff where they stand on this, and other issues that concern you. Here are some contact information lists for the parties that have not yet made a policy: Conservative | Liberal