The open Internet
In the absence of a solid digital strategy for Canada, the pro-Internet community -- facilitated by the citizen engagement organization OpenMedia.ca -- has worked collaboratively on a comprehensive report that puts forward a detailed plan for moving forward.
The remarkable nature of this spring's election illustrated the Internet's effect on and role within the changing nature of social and political life. The Internet has shown itself to be an invaluable platform for political discussion and a critical tool for public engagement. This platform, however, is being threatened by large communications companies that seek to control it. Now, more than ever, Canadians must take action to preserve the connected future that the Internet makes possible.
The OpenMedia.ca report, Casting an Open Net, lays out the technical, economic, cultural, and social reasons to advance and protect an open Internet in Canada, and shows that there is little reason to do otherwise.
The report makes clear that Internet openness ought to guide digital policy in Canada. Released as Parliament reconvenes, OpenMedia.ca has created a tool that allows citizens to share the report with their MPs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and call on Ottawa to use the plan as a cornerstone in developing digital policies.
The Conservative Government's Digital Economy Strategy has purportedly been in the works for three years, and yet it is nowhere to be seen. It is being crafted with little citizen input, and appears to be shaping up to be a Big Industry-focused plan.
The CRTC has also squandered many opportunities to represent the public interest -- in 2009, the Commission released Internet openness rules (TRP 2009-657), but has continually failed to enforce them, despite 11,000 people encouraging them to do so.
In the last year, we have heard, time and again, Canada described as an "Internet loser," a "digital laggard," and a "cautionary tale" as it falls behind the rest of the industrialized world in broadband speed, price, and service, and digital competitiveness.
Canadians are (in greater and greater numbers) becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the direction in which digital policy is moving (or not moving), and with the public and private entities that have gotten us into this mess. To say nothing of the overwhelming response to OpenMedia.ca's 485,000+ signature Stop the Meter petition, the report describes mounting public engagement in digital future issues, including the 2009 Traffic Management Hearings and the 2010 Digital Economy Consultation. The past few years have shown just how far Canadians are willing to go to advance and protect an open communications system.
Casting an Open Net
Casting an Open Net contains a detailed set of recommendations for the federal government. A few highlights:
- Invest 2.2 billion (from spectrum auction proceeds) in 21st century Internet infrastructure; investment should be guided by public interest criteria, and citizen and local government consultations.
- Mandate regular Internet Service Provider (ISP) openness audits that measure things like traffic management practices, congestion, and average speeds.
- Direct the CRTC to be more transparent by involving the public in policy process -- for example, by including broader stakeholder and citizen participation in the appointment process of CRTC commissioners.
- Break up the competing business units of major telecom companies (i.e. functional separation) to enable ISP competition and choice.
In short, OpenMedia.ca has a plan.
It is clear that piecemeal solutions will not alleviate this widespread citizen dissatisfaction and fix the opacity and inaccessibility that define Canada's telecom industry. We need to restructure Canada's telecom market in order to address issues like price-gouging. Solutions like infrastructure investment, functional separation, and open access policies are the future, and Canadian digital policymakers would be wise to take heed and note international examples where the above policies have been successful.
The report's chief editor, Reilly Yeo said today, "With this clear, concise, well-researched plan, our representatives have no excuse for inaction. This report lays the groundwork, and now it's time to move forward."
Shea Sinnott is the operations manager of OpenMedia.ca. Lindsey Pinto is the communications manager of OpenMedia.ca. OpenMedia.ca is a national non-profit organization working to advance and support an open and innovative communications system in Canada.
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