Let people regulate themselves


In early February, OpenMedia.ca received word the CRTC was planning a set of invitation-only meetings on March 23 and 24 in Ottawa. Entitled “Shaping Regulatory Approaches for the Future,” the forum was meant to bring together the “stakeholders” of Canadian telecommunications for “meaningful discussions” on modern regulatory approaches to the telecom industry in Canada and abroad. In other words, the meeting was set to be a consultation on the future of the Internet in Canada.

OpenMedia criticized the invitation-only, closed structure of the forum and pressured the CRTC to invite the real “stakeholders” in the future of the Internet – Canadian citizens. The CBC picked up on this message and put the issue to the CRTC. In response, on March 14, the CRTC expressed its desire to “open up” the forum and invited me to attend.

The CRTC refused to video or audio stream the meeting and imposed the “Chatham House Rule,” which prevents attendees from attributing comments. The forum’s organizers argued these rules would better allow invitees to “speak freely” and discuss issues openly. This, in itself, is telling about the kind of “stakeholders” invited to attend. If the CRTC felt that invitees would pontificate and perform in favour of their special interests, perhaps the commission should question their motives in influencing Canada’s digital regulatory future in the first place.

At the meeting, innovators were certainly underrepresented considering the topic at hand. The discussion would have benefited from better representation from services like Hootsuite and online media projects like OpenFile or The Tyee. It’s interesting this sector was probably the least represented at the forum, yet this seems to be where the most innovation, entrepreneurialism and economic development are happening.

Roughly six people represented the public, depending on how you define public interest. This isn’t a bad ratio on the face of it, but I personally think organizations that represent the public should be the best-represented category, given we’re talking about regulations that should be made in the interest of the public.

At one point during the forum, I spoke to a telecom rep who said they had previously worked for the CRTC. This is probably not unique and is evidence of the revolving door between industry and the commission. What was interesting is that after I tweeted this fact and it caused a stir, people seemed so shocked I would indelicately point this out to the public. Really, this is the kind of stuff that needs to be publicized! We can’t fix the CRTC’s structural problems without finding the cause of those problems.

The CRTC’s insulation is a problem and one way of countering this is to make its meetings more transparent and its processes more open and accessible.

On July 11, the CRTC is holding a public hearing on Internet Metering – an issue that nearly half a million Canadians have spoke out against by signing StopTheMeter.ca petition. This hearing is a unique opportunity for the CRTC to join the 21st century by fully engaging citizens in the process.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters.

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