Thursday, February 08, 2007

Net neutrality may be the next casualty of Harper's regime

Now it's getting personal. Via SaskBoy is this CBC report which says that Industry Minister Maxime Bernier is favouring the big telecoms over consumers in relation to Net Neutrality.
Internal documents suggest the Tory government is reluctant to impose consumer safeguards for the web because it wants to protect the competitive position of businesses that offer Internet access.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press indicate that senior advisers to Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, who has previously declared a "consumer first" approach, are carefully heeding the arguments of large telecommunications companies like Videotron and Telus against so-called Net neutrality legislation.

As SaskBoy says,

Net Neutrality is a poor catch phrase. It doesn’t describe the status quo in a way everyone understands, and confusion breeds ignorance on the topic. If you asked someone, “Are you in favour of Net Neutrality?” they’d probably have to think about that one, and more likely couldn’t come up with an answer that makes sense. A better thing to ask (although biased in favour of consumers) would be, “Do you want [insert mega-communications corporation name here] to be able to charge select customers for faster delivery of Internet information?”

There’s some suggestion from recently obtained documents, that Industry Minister Bernier is going to favour scrapping Net Neutrality, so that bloggers and other independent [non-wealthy] content providers, are going to have less ability to distribute their information on the web. For the techies, consider this the mother of all packet shaping [bandwidth choke] - and every program is choked down to unbearable limits, even if you pay for a highspeed connection to your ISP.

Basically, regardless of what you pay for your high-speed connection, if you wanted your content, a blog for example, to have any status on the web you would have to pay one of the major telecoms. All others would be relegated to substandard speeds and, as stated, bandwidth choke.

One Internet expert calls the minister's briefing materials, obtained under the Access to Information Act, "one-sided."

"These documents reveal that in Canada, the industry minister and his policy people appear unlikely to provide Canadian Internet users with similar protections to those being offered in the United States," Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Tuesday.


But Jim Johannsson, spokesman for Telus, says Canadian consumers have nothing to fear, and disputes the notion that the current legislation needs to be replaced with something tougher.

"The existing legislation has never really been tested, so it's a stretch to say it's ineffective," Johannsson said. "Should the need arise, the CRTC has the authority to deal with any problems."

Johannsson is being overly simplistic. Telus benefited when the CRTC was overruled by Bernier on the VoIP question. Are we all to believe that they're just going to lay back and do nothing? The Harperites have already proven with the VoIP decision that they have no respect for decisions made by the regulator and clearly favour the big telecoms. They did it with VoIP and they'll do it with internet service.

In the various background papers and question period notes prepared for Bernier, there is short shrift given to the arguments in favour of Net neutrality legislation.

Bernier is advised that major telecom companies are "determined to play a greater role in how Internet content is delivered" and that "they believe they should be the gatekeepers of content, with the freedom to impose fees for their role."

Yet elsewhere in the documents, his advisers, despite clearly acknowledging the intentions of the companies, say "it would be premature at this time to draw any conclusions."

Premature, my ass. Keep in mind that the major telecoms aren't there to provide a service. They are out to make money and if they can do it by providing less service, they will, just as they have done in the past.

If we need examples of how the big service providers would interfere we don't have to go far. They've already done it.

Telus, in 2005, blocked Telus internet customers from opening a website supporting the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labour dispute that year. And Shaw Cable charges an extra $10 per month to give competing VoIP customers the same connection and sound quality as customers who use Shaw exclusively. Essentially what Shaw is saying is that they do care what you do with your internet connection after they sell it to you. And if they don't like it, they'll charge you more.

This is big. Really big. Given the way the Conservatives have been handing the big telecoms anything and everything they've asked for, despite CRTC decisions to the contrary, Bernier is not to be trusted. We already know not to trust the telecoms and cable providers.

For a very clear picture of what Bernier and the telecoms are up to, go here.

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