Yesterday in Toronto, I co-hosted and facilitated an open forum on the future of Canada’s open internet with Matt Thompson of http://savetheinternet.com and Steve Anderson of http://saveournet.ca/. The intent of the gathering was to engage Toronto’s tech/web/media community around the issue of network neutrality and to launch a coalition and campaign to preserve and enhance Canada’s digital future.
In March, the net neutrality issue finally made the front pages and broadcast media in Canada, triggered by news of Bell Canada’s throttling of third-party Internet Service Providers’ peer-to-peer traffic. The unilateral action was seen by advocates of a neutral and open Internet as anti-competitive and a dangerous precedent, and it triggered a backlash against Bell Canada. Bell confirmed advocates worst fears in May, when it launched its own online video store after having throttled P2P traffic, much of which is dedicated to video – both legal and otherwise.
Thompson provided some excellent background on the issue drawing from his experience on the U.S. campaign around network neutrality, which is well advanced compared to the debate in Canada. Matt shared the U.S. focused viral video, Save the Internet!, which won a 2007 Webby People’s Voice Award:
Thompson presented a clear description of the principles underlying the neutral and open web and its importance to Canada’s future as an innovative economy and a free society. He also articulated a nuanced understanding that the last-mile monopoly providers (principally Bell and Rogers in Canada) aren’t evil, they are merely doing their job and lobbying for rules that are in their shareholders’ interests. He described that what is really missing in Canada is everybody else – all the many stakeholders that are damaged by a set of norms that currently allows for discrimination of content on the web by these monopoly providers.
Canada needs a plan. Thompson made a passionate plea that the real underlying issue is that the government of Canada’s laissez faire approach (“we don’t regulate the Internet”) shows that Canada has no plan for its digital future. It has no vision about the infrastructure for everything else, and how we’re going to compete in a global digital future when other countries have long passed us by in terms of broadband policy, infrastructure speed, access and costs. Compare this situation against Barack Obama’s Technology policies. and it’s clear that there is a political opportunity to show leadership on the technology file.
SaveOurNet.ca promises to be a vehicle for everybody else. SaveOurNet.ca is intended to act as a broad, inclusive coalition of strange bedfellows: freedom of speech activists and technology entrepreneurs; unions and third-party ISPs; large technology companies and broadcasters.
SaveOurNet.ca needs our community’s help. Effective awareness campaigns like the Save the Internet video, coalition building, media relations, community engagement, participation in CRTC hearings and direct lobbying of elected officials requires dedicated resources – volunteers alone won’t do it. Big players are being lined up to support the effort, including major public sector unions and companies like Google Canada and Teksavvy.
But the campaign needs a vote of confidence from Canada’s web/tech/media and other communities of interest to trigger the pooling of additional resources from larger organizations and foundations. In fundraising terms, SaveOurNet.ca is looking for Angels.
What You Can Do:
- Sign onto the coalition at http://SaveOurNet.ca/, either as an individual supporter or as an organizational supporter.
- PLEASE DONATE what you can to the seed fund for SaveOurNet.ca, and then blog about it, share it on Facebook, send to your networks and communities, talk about it.
- Contact your MP’s office and arrange for a sit-down chat about the issue during their summer hiatus from Parliament. Just booking the appointment will force your MP to get briefed on the issue, which is the first step in educating our elected officials and raising it on the political agenda come the fall.