INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson
In the past, I’ve asked Canadians to send Industry Minister Tony Clement letters asking him to stop Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from discriminating against online services. Currently, several major ISPs are engaging in the practice of discrimination by making certain services load slower for users than other services. After I asked Canadians to once again urge the Minister into action, I was expecting the usual government form letter response.
But I was wrong. This time, Clement invited me to meet with him. Clearly, the nearly half a million signatures on the “Stop the Meter” petition have made him a little nervous.
Clement deserves credit for initiating a meeting with me, considering that I, and OpenMedia.ca, have been very critical of him for several years now. This demonstrates he is willing to listen to Canadians when the volume is loud enough.
Yet while Clement is willing to listen, it seems he’s not so willing to act. For the most part, Clement put forth what I’d define as a “wait-and-see” digital policy agenda during our meeting.
While Clement was clear he would make structural changes to the telecom industry in his upcoming digital economy strategy policy, this is obviously a rather vague commitment and it could be delayed because of an election.
Clement outright refused to deal with issues like ISP oversight and transparency or reforms to the CRTC, Canada’s communications regulator. It’s clear we can no longer trust ISPs now that they are gouging us and limiting access to online services. After falling asleep at the wheel and letting this happen, the CRTC must be reformed.
Canadians have waited long enough and felt the impact on their wallets time and again as a result of this “wait-and-see” approach. In fact, Canadians across the country are currently battling with phone companies over excessive data and phone fees. CBC’s Marketplace just released a revealing report called “Canada’s Worst Cell Phone Bill,” which finds damning evidence that Canadians are being unfairly gouged by cell phone providers. One person was charged over $15,000 for a data service that an expert interviewed by the CBC said only cost the provider four dollars.
This is the pricing model big phone and cable companies are in the process of imposing on the wired Internet access we enjoy in our homes and workplaces. The move to put a pay meter on our Internet use is designed to limit our access to online video services and content while lining the pockets of huge telecom conglomerates. But this is not just about consumer choice; it’s also about basic human dignity and self-determination. The “Stop The Meter” petition has become a rallying cry because the telecom companies have become so arrogant, insulated and unaccountable they are now violating basic human values.
Canadians are looking for a champion of the Open Internet, or, at the very least, someone to exhibit strong leadership in digital policy. Unfortunately, at the moment, Tony Clement is not that person. Clement has had ample opportunity to be clear and forthcoming in his stance on digital policy, but he has continuously failed to face Canada’s digital issues head on.
So if we want Clement or any other representative to prevent phone and cable companies from price gouging and taking over the Internet, it appears we will be left to our own devices; increasing our numbers and building the pro-Internet movement is one major step we can take to force him to act in the future. Thus, once again, leadership will need to start with us, the Internet users.
Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.