Canada says yes to net neutrality – and no to Trump advisor, eh?

Important legal ruling divides North America


Canada's comms watchdog has come out strongly in favor of net neutrality – despite efforts by one of the Trump Administration's key telecoms advisors to tip the scales in the other direction.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruling on Thursday extends the Canadian government's protections to so-called "zero rating" – meaning that ISPs are not allowed to offer specific services without them counting toward data usage. ISPs are also not allowed to block or slow down specific traffic.

The zero rating extension stems from a case brought by student Ben Klass against Bell's Mobile TV service in 2013. He won his case at the CRTC in 2015, and this week's ruling locked that decision down by setting up a "framework for assessing the differential pricing practices of Internet service providers" – in other words, produced rules for how it would determined if ISPs had broken net neutrality rules.

More significantly, it concludes that:

differential pricing practices, generally speaking, result in (a) a preference toward certain subscribers over others, (b) a preference toward certain content providers over others, (c) a disadvantage to subscribers who are not eligible for, or interested in, a differential pricing practice offering, and (d) a disadvantage to content providers that are not eligible for, or included in, an offering.

And that means it impacts consumer choice, competition and innovation and so is banned. Instead, the CRTC notes that ISPs should differentiate their services on price, speed, volume and coverage.

It goes on: "The Commission considers that any short-term benefits of differential pricing practices would be greatly outweighed by the negative long-term impacts on consumer choice if ISPs were to act as gatekeepers of content."

Notably, however, among the proponents of differential pricing, is one Roslyn Layton – one of Donald Trump's key FCC advisors. She's listed in the report alongside Bell Canada and Facebook as arguing for zero rating.

As for deciding in future whether an ISP has broken the rules, the CRTC provides four criteria against which future complaints will be measured: agnostic treatment of data, exclusiveness, impact on Internet openness and innovation, and whether there is financial compensation.

The commission did not address one issue however: that of data caps. It said it was still monitoring that topic.

The system will still require Canadians to keep an eye on ISP actions and lodge a complaint – rather than pro-active action by the regulator – but overall it is clear that Canada has taken a very strong net neutrality stance. And one unlikely to be budged. ®

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