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The Toronto Star: How Canadians reclaimed the public interest on digital policy

Canadians have long been speaking out to safeguard affordable access to our communications – but only recently are we seeing digital policy decision-makers at the CRTC beginning to put public interest first. Canadians are in the drivers seat and we need to tell the CRTC which direction to take. Share your and help enact a new wireless code for Canada - we'll be bringing your horror stories to Big Telecom Telus this week and report back with what they have to say. Article by Michael Geist The fall of 2007 was a particularly bleak period for Canadians concerned with digital policies. The government had just issued a policy direction to the CRTC to adopt a hands-off regulatory approach even as consumer prices for Internet and wireless services were increasing. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety held a semi-secret consultation on Internet surveillance where mandatory disclosure of subscriber information was assumed.

Moreover, the CRTC had largely rejected mounting concerns with the way Internet providers managed their networks (often called network neutrality), there were doubts about new wireless competitors entering the marketplace, Industry Canada had seemingly no interest in developing anti-spam laws or updating privacy legislation, the government agreed to participate in negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and a copyright bill with virtually no user-oriented provision was being prepared for introduction.

Fast forward five years later and the CRTC has now positioned itself as a staunch defender of the public interest with consumer concerns at the centre of its policy making process, a lawful access bill was introduced in the spring but is viewed as politically dead, the CRTC has crafted and enforced new net neutrality rules, anti-spam legislation has been enacted, there are several new wireless providers and the removal of most foreign investment restrictions, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is discredited after being rejected by the European Parliament, and copyright reform is set to take effect this week with a host of user safeguards and rights.

While many remain skeptical, the shift toward the public interest in the development of Canadian digital policies ranks as one of the most remarkable policy transformations of the current Conservative government. The change is not absolute – Canada caved to U.S. pressure on several copyright issues, delayed implementation of the anti-spam bill due to corporate lobbying, and is negotiating new trade treaties that could undo much of the recent progress – but the state of Canadian digital policy is far better than anyone could have reasonably anticipated several years ago.

There are undoubtedly many factors behind the shift, but topping the list was the confluence of three inter-related developments.

First, Internet and digital policy issues went from niche issues to the mainstream since the rules associated with Internet access, wireless services, social media, user generated content, and privacy became far more personal with implications for millions of people. Digital policy may have once focused chiefly on commercial concerns attracting limited public attention, but the public has increasingly connected these policies to their own lives. Read more »


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