Where Do the Tories Stand on Net Neutrality?

by Jordan Richardson on October 14, 2010

The Harper administration is taking it from all sides with respect to the issue of net neutrality. Opposition parties and advocacy groups are giving the Tories the business over a failure to support net neutrality.

The Conservatives are the only main national party to not issue a statement in support of keeping the internet free from “undue interference” from service providers. According to the SaveOurNet coalition, Harper’s government is the only party to not vocalize support for routine audits of service providers and general net neutrality principles.

SaveOurNet has said that it has had conversations with the other main national parties and has spoken to party leaders like Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff, but the Harper government only tabled a single response to the group that parroted the position of the CRTC on the topic. Follow-up calls to Tony Clement were left unreturned, says SaveOurNet.

“In the absence of a response, the Coalition assumes that Tony Clement and the Conservative Party do not support ISP (internet service provider) audits or net neutrality in general,” said the group in a Wednesday report. “Furthermore, the Conservative Party has failed to respond to the concerns of Canadians by outlining their position in these matters.”

So just where do the Tories stand on net neutrality?

It wouldn’t be surprising to find the Harper government opposed to net neutrality, but it’s hard to imagine the government’s position developing with any clarity as of yet. It does seem that this government is preoccupied with a host of other issues, whether it’s the census or with controlling the way science news is delivered to the general public, and this issue has simply fallen through the cracks. It is, without question, an issue of concern for most Canadians and the government’s silence on it could be read as disquieting.

Clement, for his part, has been working on his much-publicized and much-celebrated “digital economy strategy.” There will be an interim update on the strategy for November 22 and Clement has indicated some sort of response at that date, but nothing seems clear just yet.

After consulting with the all-important stakeholders, the CRTC put together its excuse for a net neutrality policy last year. It ruled that ISPs can only interfere with web traffic as a “last resort” and pushed the companies towards economic “solutions,” such as metered billing. The implementation came after customers complained that Bell was throttling traffic in 2008 over P2P networks and file transfer speeds were subsequently slowed by the provider. The wholesale companies of Bell took the big gun to task and the CRTC stepped in with its “fix.”

Control over Canada’s internet will continue to be a contentious issue, of course, but with the amount of control currently enjoyed by Canada’s big telecom companies, it’s hard to imagine a solution issued by this administration that would support a truly free and open internet.

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