#CyberFLASH: Canadian Battle over “Zero Rating” Places Net Neutrality Safeguards at Risk

03748212-700x500Net neutrality emerged as a top Internet policy issue over 10 years ago as some Internet service providers openly discussed creating a two-tier system with a fast lane for websites and applications willing to pay additional fees and a slow lane for everyone else. The companies maintained that consumers would benefit from the two-tier approach by gaining faster access to premium content.

Internet users and emerging technology companies banded together to oppose the approach, arguing that all traffic should be treated in an equal manner regardless of content, source, or destination. They noted that the two-tier approach could lead to unfair competition and an inability for start-up companies to challenge established players.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that Internet users won the policy battle and years later net neutrality rules can be found worldwide. Indeed, the importance of an “open Internet” was recently affirmed by Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Development, who told an international conference that the economy depends upon it.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) established its policy response in 2009 with the Internet traffic management practices. The rules restrict content blocking or slowdowns and require ISPs to disclose how they manage their networks.

The net neutrality debate has shifted in recent years to the issue of “zero rating” or “differential pricing”, references to network providers exempting certain content from data charges. While the traffic management practice has flipped from charging extra for content to offering access to content without data charges, the fundamental concerns are largely the same.

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#CyberFLASH: Fixing Canada’s National Security Framework

parliament-hill-2012-jon-fingas-flickrBefore Standing Committees of both the House of Commons and the Senate last week, I described the federal government’s agenda in the weeks ahead on national security. Two critical imperatives, which must be accomplished in lock-step together, are woven through all of our security initiatives.

First, we need to be effective in keeping Canadians safe. And simultaneously, we need to safeguard Canadian values, our rights and freedoms, and the open, generous, inclusive character of our country — in short, the very qualities that make Canada, Canada.

We cannot enjoy our individual rights and freedoms without effective collective security, but we must achieve that collective security in ways that do not impair the very essence of that which we seek to protect.

Built by diversity and stronger because of it, Canada is fundamentally a safe and peaceful nation. The Aga Khan has described Canada as the finest expression of pluralism the world has ever known. But we are not immune to tragedy, as demonstrated by the horrible events in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Ottawa in October of 2014 (and elsewhere on other occasions too).

So how should we respond? One thing is clear — Canadians want thoughtful, inclusive consultation and dialogue. Not fear mongering. And not naivete. The public wants to be honestly informed and sincerely engaged.

There was a unique moment in the painful aftermath of the October, 2014 events when Canadians could have been gathered in common cause to find that delicate intersection between collective security and individual rights. The whole country shared in the grief of those sorry days. We leaned on each other, on all sides. There was a clear sense that laws and procedures had to be strengthened. There was palpable will to try very hard to get it right, and to do it together.

Unfortunately, the government of the day chose to proceed unilaterally. That extraordinary moment of potential collaboration evaporated. And new legislation which many Canadians found seriously defective (Bill C-51) was the result.

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