Could Canada Kill Net Neutrality?

The Canadian Press reported Tuesday that it obtained documents showing advisers to Minister of Industry Maxime Bernier seem to favor telecommunications companies' arguments against regulation.

While the minister has yet to make up his mind on the subject, Bernier has said before that he supports a "consumer first" approach. The papers obtained suggest his staff is siding with Canadian telecommunications companies like Videotron and Telus when it comes to creating a two-tier system for high-speed bandwidth and allowing Internet providers to charge consumers more for preferred service.

Network neutrality refers to a counter initiative to that two-tiered design. Major search engines such as Google and Yahoo support network neutrality because of the massive amounts of traffic they deliver compared with other sites. It also became an issue because some carriers that offered subscription-based voice-over-IP services were also transporting their competitors' VoIP traffic.

The Canadian debate mirrors one that has been raging in the United States for about a year. The U.S. 109th Congress did not pass any laws on network neutrality last year, but proponents managed to tie up a communications package by making the network neutrality debate part of it.

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Now Canadians are considering whether market forces should guide the Internet's future. That would allow telecommunications and cable companies to move bits faster for those paying higher fees.

Michael Geist, research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, published contents from the documents on his blog and joined those warning that the Canadian government appears to be favoring market forces and related arguments presented by telecommunications companies.

"It is about leaving Canadian consumers and the Canadian Internet vulnerable to a two-tier Internet and providing tacit approval to those telecommunications companies that actively engage in network discrimination," he said.

Telecommunications company consultant Mark Goldberg refuted Geist's arguments in favor of network neutrality on his blog.

"The fear-mongers who profess to want to Save the Internet tend to forget that use of the Internet flourished only after its control was liberated from the tight control by government and universities," Goldberg wrote.