Net neutrality bill hits House of Commons

The NDP has followed through with its promise to introduce legislation that seeks to keep the internet open and free from control by service providers.

The NDP has followed through with its promise to introduce legislation to the House of Commons that seeks to keep the internet open and free from control by service providers.

"This bill is about fairness to consumers," said Charlie Angus, the NDP's digital spokesman, in the House of Commons on Wednesday. "The internet is a critical piece of infrastructure not just for Canada but for the world ... this bill protects the innovation agenda of Canada."

The private member's bill, C-552, is in reaction to moves by some of Canada's largest internet service providers (ISPs), including Bell Canada Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., to limit their customers' uses of the internet. Bell, Rogers and a few others say a small percentage of customers have been congesting their networks by using peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent, so they have slowed the internet down at peak times of the day.

The ISPs' actions have provoked outrage from internet users, with about 300 protesters taking to the steps of Parliament Hill on Tuesday. Critics have said the targeting of peer-to-peer applications is just the tip of the iceberg. If ISPs are allowed to decide which internet applications can and can't be used, innovative new companies that were born from experimentation — such as Google, Amazon and eBay — may not happen in the future.

"Net neutrality affects everybody, every person, every business, every hospital, every institution is involved in the exchange of information over the internet," Angus told "This shouldn't be about party lines."

The four-page bill seeks to amend the Telecommunications Act and "prohibit network operators from engaging in network management practices that favour, degrade or prioritize any content, application or service transmitted over a broadband network based on its source, ownership or destination, subject to certain exceptions."

It also looks to prohibit "network operators from preventing a user from attaching any device to their network and requires network operators to make information about the user's access to the internet available to the user."

The proposed bill makes exception for ISPs to manage traffic in reasonable cases, Angus said, such as providing stable speeds for applications such as gaming or video conferencing.

"There are areas where telecoms have to be able to exercise rights, but that doesn't give them the ability to arbitrarily interfere or discriminate," Angus said.

NDP wary about government intervention

The NDP is "very wary" about the government intervening in the internet, Angus told the House of Commons. But the bill isn't about regulating the internet, it's about ensuring there will be scrutiny of those who provide access to it, he said.

Now that the bill has been tabled, it has to wait to be called up in private members' business in the House. Angus is far down on the randomly generated list that determines the order in which members are scheduled to present their bills or motions, but he said he will try to trade positions with another party member to bring it up the list for discussion.

The point of the bill, Angus said, is to give MPs who otherwise have no idea what net neutrality is a reference point. It also gives critics a focal point for their arguments.

Officials at Rogers did not immediately return requests for comment.

Mark Langton, spokesman for Bell, said there is no need for additional legislation as the existing Telecommunications Act is sufficient.

A spokesperson for Minister of Industry Jim Prentice also did not immediately return a request for comment. The spokesperson also did not reply to requests for comment on the net neutrality rally.

Prentice earlier this month told the House that the government was against regulating the internet and would leave the matter to be resolved by ISPs and their customers.

Scott Brison still to weigh in

Liberal industry critic Scott Brison has not weighed in on the issue, despite having held meetings with Bell, Rogers and several smaller ISPs a few weeks ago. His spokesman did not reply to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Liberal MP Mauril Belanger spoke at the rally on Tuesday and said he was in favour of net neutrality, but added that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission already has all the tools it needs at its disposal to punish abuse by ISPs.

Section 27 (2) of the Telecommunications Act says: "No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage."

Section 36 also says: "Except where the commission approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public."

Despite those two sections, Angus said CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage two weeks ago that the regulator did not have sufficient means to punish ISPs violating the rules. Finckenstein said the CRTC needs the ability to impose monetary penalties for violating both the Telecommunications and Broadcasting Acts.

"It is something we need in our tool box," he said.