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A very Canadian approach: How net neutrality rules reflect a country's true nature

Reasonable, fair, no-nonsense. Typical Canucks

Analysis Canadians are so reasonable. As far as we're aware there aren't any derogatory terms used by Canadians to describe their continental cousins below them – quite an achievement given the endless efforts by Americans to cajole and rile them at every opportunity.

It's no secret either why Canadians are the go-to for peacekeeping forces: there's just something so eminently fair yet no-nonsense about the nation.

And so it seems that Canadian culture has been passed down to the controversial topic du jour in the internet world: network neutrality.

Late last week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued two important rulings on how it would view and treat issues around the delivery of content to consumers.

Most critically, it issued a decision on the tricky topic of "zero rating," where internet providers offer specific services for free and/or without it impacting a customer's data usage.

This topic has been at the edge of net neutrality discussions, with regulators across the world declining to make a decision and instead claiming they will look at it on a case-by-case basis. Canada however has made a decision – and it's one that the policy wonk commentators are happy about.

It's fair to note though that some were surprised the CRTC managed to reach a reasonable decision.

"I am, as much as this cynical old observer of things political can be, in a mild case of awe," wrote internet policy wonk Tim Denton in a blog post. "These people have done great work."

Dwayne Winseck, Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, has also done an extensive analysis of the decisions and praised the CRTC for managing to reach a sensible position despite heavy pressure from industry – and from the Trump Administration south of the border.

"Underneath all of this is just common sense: common carriage is essential to ensure that those who own and control the medium and who have all the incentives and ability in the world to control and influence the content, activities, services and interactions that take place through their networks don't make good on those potentials," he wrote, adding that "the CRTC has shown [some] spine, but will no doubt experience incredible blowback for doing so."


In essence, the civil servants did what non-compromised industry observers have for years been arguing for: put the consumer first and call the powerful internet and cable lobby on its BS.

While zero rating results in "free services" – which have to be good, right? – the CRTC decision takes the larger view: that these services are being chosen by companies to benefit themselves, not their customers.

And it notes that if it allows for "differential pricing," the end result will be contracts and deals drawn up that benefit big corporations and access providers over consumers and content producers.

Content providers would have to make sure their systems work with the access providers' systems (like Facebook's Instant Articles platform), and would have to draw up deals and contracts that have a very small additional benefit for a large corporation but a huge benefit for small content providers. In other words, the power balance would be wildly skewed.

And it notes that by allowing this approach, it will almost inevitably lead the content industry away from open standards and protocols to self-contained worlds – again, like Facebook profiting from newspapers' content by granting access to their users.

Not only is that sub-optimal, but it would also get in the way of other important technical advances like virtual private networks (VPNs).

Where people's admiration for the CRTC decisions comes from, however, is that the regulator takes its philosophical and tech-savvy approach and extends it logically to areas where it could be expected to want to rule in the opposite direction – such as the promotion of Canadian content.

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