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Industry Minister Tony Clement says he will address the issue of net neutrality in his upcoming 'digital economy' plan. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press) )

The federal government is taking fire from opposition parties and an advocacy group for allegedly failing to support net neutrality, or keeping the internet free from undue interference by service providers.

The Conservative Party is the only main national party that hasn't expressed support for net neutrality principles in general and regular audits of service providers specifically, according to the SaveOurNet Coalition, an online group run by Vancouver-based advocate Steve Anderson.

The group said it has engaged in conversations about net neutrality with key individuals in the Liberal Party and the NDP, including their respective leaders, Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton, but received only a single response from the Conservatives early this year.

That letter simply repeated the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's "flawed" position on the issue, the group said.

Follow-up phone calls and correspondence to Industry Minister Tony Clement were not returned.

"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 a report released by the group on Wednesday.

"Furthermore, the Conservative Party has failed to respond to the concerns of Canadians by outlining their position in these matters."

Clear rules needed: parties

Both the Liberals and the NDP issued releases on Wednesday supporting the Coalition's report and net neutrality in general.

"Once again, the Conservatives have shown that they would rather spend their time trying to kill the census rather than respond to the real complaints of thousands of Canadians – in this case, those asking for an open, competitive internet," said a blog post on the Liberal Party website.

"Canada has an opportunity to set the standard for digital innovation and openness," said Charlie Angus, the NDP's spokesman for digital affairs and the MP for Timmins-James Bay.

"We need clear rules and compliance audits to ensure the ISPs aren't monkey-wrenching with the ability of citizens and companies to access content."

Clement told CBC News he is in the process of putting together Canada's "digital economy" strategy and will be issuing an interim update on Nov. 22.

"That is how I will respond," he said.

The CRTC issued its net neutrality rules a year ago after consulting with a range of stakeholders. The regulator ruled that internet service providers can only interfere with traffic as a last resort to prevent congestion on their networks. ISPs were instead urged to use "economic measures," such as new investment in capacity and metered billing.

Critics, including the Coalition and opposition parties, say the CRTC's rules place the onus on consumers to prove that an ISP's particular traffic management violates the net neutrality framework. They have called on the regulator to institute regular audits of ISP traffic management to ensure compliance with the rules.

Net neutrality became an issue in Canada in 2008 when Bell Canada, the country's largest ISP, began interfering with customers' use of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, slowing down file transfer speeds. The move led to a dispute between the company and its smaller wholesale ISP customers, which ultimately resulted in the larger CRTC hearings on net neutrality.

Supporters say net neutrality is vital to maintaining innovation and freedom of expression on the internet.

The issue has also become the focus of heated debate in the United States. Despite more than a year of discussions and attempts to establish rules by the Federal Communications Commission, the country still has no framework in place.