CRTC upholds current net neutrality framework at House committee meeting [Update]

The CRTC’s Chris Seidl spoke at the House's Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

Net Neutrality

Canada’s telecom watchdog took to a House of Commons committee to restate Canada’s existing net neutrality framework.

The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) executive director of telecommunications Chris Seidl spoke at a recent Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics meeting, to restate some of the CRTC’s past decisions on net neutrality.

During his comments, Seidl lent some insight into the CRTC’s thought process for ensuring the perpetuity of Canadian net neutrality.

Seidl specifically made reference to the Canadian Railway Act of 1906, arguing that the same common carriage thinking that applied to freight trains carrying cargo can be used to think about fibre optic cables carrying internet packet data.

“It turns out that the same principles are effective whether we are referring to cargo transported on railway cars or data carried over telecommunications networks,” said Seidl. “It it important to keep in mind that net neutrality is focused on carriage rather content.”

“Our framework supports a fair marketplace in which ISPs can compete…”

“We mention this because the broadly worded statutory provisions have stood the test of time and have allowed the CRTC the flexibility to address more modern concerns. They have been able to adapt to modern technology and needs, including net neutrality.”

Seidl enumerated three specific decisions delivered by the CRTC to promote net neutrality in Canada.

In 2009, the Commission established an internet traffic management framework that allowed the CRTC to determine compliance with the Telecommunications Act.

In 2015, the Commission ruled that service providers could not use their influence to promote their own mobile television services over others in the marketplace.

Finally, Seidl referenced the CRTC’s April 2017 differential pricing — zero rating — decision that determined that internet service providers (ISP) “should treat all data that flows across their networks equally.”

“Our framework supports a fair marketplace in which ISPs compete on price, quality of service, data allowance and innovative service offerings,” said Seidl.

The CRTC and FairPlay Canada

Chris Seidl’s comments to the House’s information, privacy and ethics committee come in the wake of the formation of an anti-piracy coalition comprised of 25 different Canadian media companies.

FairPlay Canada’s ultimate goal is to convince the CRTC to establish an independent anti-piracy agency to block access to websites determined to have infringed on Canadian copyright.

A number of net neutrality advocates have spoken out against FairPlay Canada’s intentions, including internet and e-commerce law professor Michael Geist.

It’s interesting to note that Seidl did specifically reference FairPlay Canada in his comments before the House committee.

“It is important to keep in mind that net neutrality is focused on carriage rather than content.”

He asserted that he would not be able to answer the committee’s questions regarding FairPlay Canada because the Commission “cannot comment on that application or any other that is currently before the CRTC.”

In spite of Seidl’s assertions, however, his comments can be interpreted to suggest that the Commission is currently satisfied with the country’s existing net neutrality framework, and that the CRTC isn’t looking to potentially change Canada’s existing legislation to give more power to ISPs and carriers.

It must be noted, however, that Seidl did not explicitly make such a comment during his remarks.

A CRTC spokesperson told MobileSyrup via email that the Commission’s net neutrality position “has developed through a series of decisions published in the past few years establishing that service providers should treat data equally to foster consumer choice, innovation and the free exchange of ideas.”

“…ISPs should be offering more data at lower prices.”

“A free and open internet gives everyone a fair chance to innovate and for a vast array of content to be discovered by consumers,” said the spokesperson, via email. “A free and open internet also allows citizens to be informed and engage on issues of public concern without undue or inappropriate interference by those who operate those networks.”

“Rather than offering subscribers selected content at different data usage prices, ISPs should be offering more data at lower prices. That way, subscribers can choose for themselves what content they want to consume.”

Source: CRTC

Update 06/02/2018 (1:32pm ET): Story updated with comment from the CRTC.

Correction 06/02/2018 (1:32pm ET): Story erroneously said that Seidl spoke before a Senate committee. He spoke before a House of Commons committee. The story has been corrected to reflect this fact.