Technology & Science

Liberals called on to support net neutrality

The National Union of Public and General Employees, which represents 340,000 workers across Canada, is urging the Liberals to support its call for laws that will keep the internet free from interference by service providers.

The National Union of Public and General Employees, which represents 340,000 workers across Canada, is urging the Liberals to support its call for laws that will keep the internet free from interference by service providers.

The union, which released its letter to Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion on its website on Monday, said urgent net neutrality action is needed in light of recent moves by service providers, including Bell Canada Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., to limit the speeds of certain internet applications. Dion was called on to take a "clear stand" in support of such legislation.

"These internet service providers are, with little or no public accountability, implementing measures that will discriminate against the use of legal software for legitimate uses. This is unacceptable," wrote NUPGE president James Clancy. "The potential for violations of the privacy rights of users is clear. The continued silence on these matters by the CRTC and the Canadian government violates the trust the Canadian people have placed in our public institutions."

The Liberals have thus far been silent on the net neutrality battle, but other opposition parties have voiced their support of legislation. NDP digital spokesman Charlie Angus last week called on Minister of Industry Jim Prentice to follow the recommendations of the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, made in 2006, and enact legislation that will stop large internet service providers from prioritizing certain types of internet traffic.

Prentice had rebuffed earlier questioning by Angus in the House of Commons and said the Conservatives were not in favour of regulating the internet.

"We have a well advanced internet system in this country. It is not publicly regulated," he said in the exchange earlier this month. "At this point in time we will continue to leave the matter between consumers on the one hand and internet service providers on the other."

While the Bloc Québécois has not yet spoken out on the neutrality controversy, the party is on the verge of tabling controversial new legislation that will allow Quebec to opt out of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and form its own regulator, according to the Montreal Gazette.

Dale Palmateer, a spokesman for Liberal Industry critic Scott Brison, told the MP was holding meetings on the topic of net neutrality in order to deepen his understanding of the issue. Brison has already spoken with representatives from Bell, Rogers and Telus and will meet with independent parties this week.

"Until he has a better understanding of the issues, he's reluctant to articulate a position," Palmateer said.

Tension growing over neutrality rules

The call for political action is following on growing tension between the large service providers and smaller ISPs, consumer groups and internet experts. On Friday, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers — which represents 55 smaller firms across Canada that rent portions of phone companies' networks in order to provide internet service to their own customers — reiterated its request to the CRTC that it immediately stop Bell's interference with download speeds.

Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. and Wireless Nomad, a co-op ISP, have filed letters with the CRTC supporting CAIP's fight with Bell. On Friday, L’Union des consommateurs — Quebec's consumer rights group — also joined the fray and called on the CRTC to end Bell's traffic shaping. The CRTC has also posted hundreds of comments from individuals supporting CAIP.

The government's own standing committee on heritage has also urged net neutrality legislation in order to protect the CBC from potentially unfair business practices by large ISPs.

The CRTC has said it will rule on CAIP's request some time in May.

Bell and Rogers, meanwhile, have said they need to throttle the speeds of certain internet uses — such as peer-to-peer applications like BitTorrent — in order to limit abuse of their networks by a small percentage of customers.

In his letter to Dion, NUPGE's Clancy pointed out that Canada is well behind the United States in investigating the issue.

"Our American neighbours are taking this form of interference in internet service very seriously. The Federal Communications Commission in the United States is conducting an investigation into the blocking of legal peer-to-peer file sharing services by Comcast and other internet service providers," he wrote. "Both Senator [Hillary] Clinton and Senator [Barack] Obama have pledged to address net neutrality concerns if elected president."