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Net Neutrality : Telecom Policy and The Public Interest

September 27, 2011
Net Neutrality: Telecom Policy and the Public Interest
Neil BarrattLeslie Regan ShadeCanadian Journal of Communication. Toronto: 2007. Vol. 32, Iss. 2; pg. 295, 11 pgs

Abstract (Summary)

Since it moved beyond dial-up, Internet access at home has been offered on scaled service levels. Users can subscribe to “basic,” or “lite,” or “super,” or “ultra,” or “premium”-every day brings a new adjective for Internet service. The different levels offer different speeds of access, different prices, and different limits on bandwidth usage. The new ways that Canadian Internet companies want to extract money from their networks are different for two main reasons. First, traditional scaled service never had any effect on users’ access to contentpages may have loaded slowly, but they loaded-and this may no longer be the case. secondly, the more sophisticated the network operators attempt to make their service, the more invasive they will have to be. Using the Shaw example from above, that QoS software requires [Shaw] to inspect packets of data that run along the network to identify VoIP packets and prioritize them. This would change the nature of the role of ISPs, as currently, they do not have the legal power to discriminate against content. The proposed model of a two-tiered Internet is premised on the idea of the ISP as a network gatekeeper, inspecting and verifying data as it runs across its wires.

Toronto is taking another approach, using a municipal network as a business opportunity for the city-owned power and telecom company. Their wireless mesh network, which serves residents of the city, costs citizens $29 per month for access. This model, however, does not include structural separation, as Toronto Hydro Telecom (THT) owns the network and provides the service in the area. THTs model provides a competitor to Bell’s and Rogers’ services. This wireless network, however, is also helping the City of Toronto comply with a provincially mandated switch to “smart” metering (linking electricity meters to permit automated downloading of their data). In effect, the city is using its residents to subsidize the cost of implementing this new program (Longford & Clement, 2006). It is also using publicly owned infrastructure (like the wireless spectrum and the street-light poles that the wireless antennae sit on) as a means by which to make a profit from this very same public. THT, nonetheless, is a corporation (as opposed to a non-profit in Fredericton), and it operates as such: “Our view is that if a private company-which we are-invests capital to build a network . . . spends money to develop a back-office infrastructure … spends time to promote, advertise and educate consumers . . . well then, that organization should be able to recoup its investment” (Gravelle, 2007).

In the final report of the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, the panel recommended the establishment of a consumer-access provision that would “confirm the right of Canadian consumers to access publicly available Internet applications and content of their choice by means of all public telecommunications networks providing access to the internet” (Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, 2006, p. 190). Despite its longstanding unwillingness to involve itself in new media, the CRTC seems to feel the winds of change blowing. CRTC Commissioner Kevin French is quoted as saying, “We’re aware of [violations of net neutrality] and believe we have the legal equipment to deal with it, but we don’t have a case in front of us. Somebody has to file a complaint” (Geist, 2006). The new CRTC chairman, however, could change this (Tuck, 2007). In Canadian legislation, ISPs (who are often also network operators) are neutral-they cannot be held responsible for hate speech or illegal pornography (CBC News, 2006). This lack of liability does little to constrain ISPs from engaging in anti-competitive behaviour. At the same time, the important network owners in this country are lobbying the government for complete deregulation-the freedom to do as they like with their networks. So perhaps Canadian telecom policy is at a crossroads, where certain gains could be made in exchange for a move toward wider deregulation. In the U.S., the AT&T-BellSouth merger included a provision mandating network neutrality until the gaps in legislation can be filled. In Canada, were Minister [Maxime Bernier] to attempt revamping the CRTC or the Telecommunications Act, concerted action by public-interest groups could be aimed at forcing the inclusion of a net neutrality provision.

 

(Sumber : ProQuest International Journal Portal)

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