Future of the Internet; Access, Openness and Inclusion

Report from the Ottawa Town Hall Meeting
June 10, 2009


About 100 people attended the second town hall in this series which was held at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library. 

Steve Anderson, co-founder of the Campaign for Democratic Media and Saveournet.ca opened the forum noting that this discussion was taking place in the context of rising concerns about Canada’s Internet legislation, policies and practices.  A recent decision by the CRTC on new media suggests that Canada needs a “national digital strategy”. Steve will be appearing at the CRTC hearings on “traffic shaping” which open in July.  A private member’s bill calling for new rules to ensure an open Internet has been introduced in the House of Commons.  In addition, major Internet infrastructure investments internationally, especially Australia, provide a new model to revitalize broadband in Canada.

A brief explanation of various common terms was provided: net neutrality, open access, deep packet inspection, and Internet infrastructure. 

The panelists for this session were Michael Geist – law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law; Charlie Angus – NDP MP, heritage and culture critic; and Rocky Gaudrault – CEO, Teksavvy Solutions Inc. (see bios at the end of this report).
Special guests included: Jacob Glick – Canada Policy Counsel, Google Canada;  Mike Gifford – founder of Open Concept Consulting Inc; Leslie Regan Shade – Communications Professor, Concordia University; and Graham Cox – Canadian Federation of Students.
The session was moderated by Marita Moll, research associate for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and secretary of Telecommunities Canada.


Summary of remarks from the panel:

Michael Geist pointed out that net neutrality, open access and  internet infrastructure were complex and inter- related issues which  are often dealt with independently and in different forums including  the CRTC, parliamentary committee hearings, and the legislative  agendas of federal, provincial and sometimes municipal governments.  When asked “What do we do about these issues?” he suggests people go  for the “low hanging fruit” ­ -- things everyone tends to agree on.  These include:

1. Content blocking:  In 2005, Telus blocked subscriber access to a union website.  Such an action seems to contradict the Telecommunications Act.  There needs to be clarification on whether or not Canadian law addresses this issue and, by extension, whether Telus violated the law.
2. Transparency in advertising:  The speeds offered by providers tend to represent maximums that are rarely realized. Providers engage in traffic shaping or other network management that result in far slower  speeds than is promoted. Consumers need to know what they are buying.

3. Undue preference: No provider should be allowed to bias their content over the content from other providers.

4. Deep packet inspection (DPI) --  Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has  expressed concerns that DPI has a serious implications for personal  privacy and that these implications must be taken into account before  this practice is employed.

Charlie Angus pointed out that the Internet is no longer a luxury.  It is an essential tool for political empowerment and is fundamental to the new economy.  He stressed that politicians are extreme generalists and not always aware of the details, particularly those of a technical nature, surrounding issues such as net neutrality and open access.  They spend a great deal of time dealing with constituents and parliamentary crises of the day. They have very little time to envision where we need to be on issues that aren’t grabbing the daily headlines. 

It is, however, the role of government to set the ground rules on communications issues. A framework needs to be established which includes access, copyright, net neutrality and other aspects of the changing communications landscape. To that end he has introduced Bill C-398, a private member’s bill calling for new rules to ensure Canada has an open Internet. It is important that politicians hear from the public, especially their constituents, encouraging them to support such instruments.  Plain language needs to be used whenever these issues are raised with parliamentarians.

Rocky Gaudrault challenged the word "choice" in the current broadcast/telecom market pointing out that Bell, Rogers and the other incumbents dominate the landscape serving approximately 96% of Internet subscribers in Canada.  He stressed that we need to establish a new foundation which would support new entrants in this market.  He touched on the issues of media control and conflict as Bell and Rogers have financial interests in nearly 200 media firms. Finally, he suggested that there was a potential need to investigate the separation, either structurally or functionally, of the retail and wholesale environments.


Summary of open forum discussion:

A.  General principles:

  1. Universal access to high capacity network connections ought to be the right of every Canadian.


  1. Discussions around net neutrality and Internet access should be framed around free speech and citizen rights.
  1. Political activity around Internet issues should be non-partisan and technology neutral.


B.  Observations on competition and infrastructure:

  1. Modern communications infrastructure is not a luxury but an economic, social and cultural necessity.  Canadians need public policy that recognizes the importance of this sector and a national strategy that will make high quality broadband access a national priority.  Some of the reasons for this include:   


-- Robust broadband access is essential to industrial development.  Without a broadband strategy that will move us forward into the 21st century, we will lose the capacity to innovate and we will lose our knowledge workers to other countries. 

-- More capacity is needed to support high bandwidth applications such as tele-health, scientific research and distance education.  These applications are not viable if they can be subject to network throttling.  This is a crucial issue especially in northern and remote areas. 

  1. Currently, in Canada, prices for Internet access are very high, speeds are low and service is poor.  There needs to be more competition and choice in the market. Possible solutions include:


-- some form of structural separation that would enable a level playing field in the delivery of content. 

 -- bring new entrants and innovation into the market through the generous allocation of spectrum for unlicensed use in the anticipated 2010 spectrum auctions.
-- updated rules re: competition in Internet services and stronger enforcement at level of the Competition Bureau.

  1. Canada’s large land mass and small population requires context-based solutions to infrastructure issues. We need to recognize that competition is achievable in urban areas but that separate, community-based solutions need to be crafted for rural and remote areas.


  1. Lack of detailed, publicly accessible information about installed Internet infrastructure is an on-going impediment to improved connectivity.  There needs to be a national research agenda that will provide up-to-date information about network accessibility including speed, type of access available and providers.


C.  Activities to support improved Internet access for Canadians:

  1. Support net neutrality and open internet enabling legislation – contact your MP about Bill C-398.


  1. Unless it is shown to be otherwise, identify content blocking as an illegal practice.
  1. Report preferential treatment of provider-owned content.


  1. Fight deep packet inspection practices as privacy invasions.
  1. Report misleading advertising about Internet speeds.


  1. Develop a strategy and political action around the public benefits of unlicensed spectrum in advance of the next spectrum auction.

D.  Advocacy tools:

  1. One page plain language explanations of issues and potential solutions.  Distill ideas into talking points so that they become accessible enough to serve as dinner topics
  1. Develop a town hall tool kit for further action.


Media and sponsors:
The Ottawa session was recorded for podcasting by Rabble.ca and videotaped for posting on Saveournet.ca.  Straight Goods News publisher Ish Theilhammer was on-site to interview various participants.  The CBC “All in a day” (June 10) interviewed Michael Geist on his views about the future of the Internet.

This meeting was sponsored by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), TheTyee and Rabble.ca.  


The Future of the Internet Town Hall Series:

Toronto: June 8

Ottawa: June 10

Vancouver: June 20

Sask, Man, NS, Que.:  TBA


Bios for panelists:
Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. Dr. Geist has written numerous academic articles and government reports on the Internet and law and was a member of Canada's National Task Force on Spam. He is an internationally syndicated columnist on technology law issues with his regular column appearing in the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, and the BBC. Dr. Geist is the editor of In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law, published in 2005, the editor of several monthly technology law publications, and the author of a popular blog on Internet and intellectual property law issues.
Charlie Angus  was elected the Member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay in 2004, re-elected in 2006. he has worked as a writer, broadcaster and musician; was a member of the Juno-nominated band Grievous Angels. Charlie has been honoured for “Outstanding Contribution to Northern Culture” at the 1999 Festival Boreal in Sudbury. Has been a regular contributor to CBC, TVO and national newspapers

Rocky Gaudrault is CEO of TekSavvy Solutions Inc. - based in Chatham, Ontario. Rocky has achieved a considerable reputation for his stance on the importance of the open Internet and for taking on the biggest telecom carriers in the country on telecom policy issues. In May 2008 Rocky even went so far as to bus most of his employees to Parliament hill to rally for Net Neutrality.