What does telecom policy have to do with Net Neutrality?
The Short Answer

The short answer is that Canada has regulated telecommunications since the arrival of the telegraph, with the goal of finding a balance between the public interest and private profits. One of the longest-standing principles of this regulation is the principle of common carriage, which means that public networks must not discriminate between content. The current political climate favours the removal of regulation on industry to improve investment and competition. Public interest and consumer activists want legislation to protect net neutrality, while business interests think that a competitive market will self-regulate and better serve customers.

The Long Answer

  1. What is the History of Telecom Regulation in Canada?

    Canadians have always depended on communications technologies to connect to one another. For the last 100 years, the government has taken an active role in developing the railway, the telegraph and the telephone to facilitate governing the largest country in the world. The government has often intervened to ensure that telecommunications services are available as widely as possible. This has involved investment of public funds in the telecom industry and creating legislation to protect the public interest. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is the body that enforces telecommunications policy, reporting to Industry Canada.
    The most important legislative principle for the net neutrality debate is common carriage. Common carriage prevents network operators (waterway, phone, roads, etc.) from charging different customers different rates for the same service. This has been written into the Telecommunications Act.

  2. What’s happening now?

    The current trend in telecommunications policy is towards de-regulation of the industry. Policy makers believe that there is enough competition in telecommunications to protect the public interest and innovation, as well as ensure necessary improvements in the infrastructure. A recent review of telecommunications policy emphasized the ability of the market to achieve these goals. Industry Minister Maxime Bernier and CRTC Chairperson Konrad von Finckenstein have supported this position.

  3. Where are we going?

    The net neutrality debate centers around the idea of telecommunications regulation. Policy aims to ensure the health of the industry, the promotion of the public interest, and the benefit of individual consumers. The question is how to achieve this balance. Certain advocates see legislation as the best way to protect consumers and the public interest. Others see consumers best served through market forces in competition. Our policy makers’ decision will shape the direction of Canadian communications in the coming years.