Mark Kohras is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
It’s election season again, and Canada’s political parties are out in force, campaigning across the country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the recent attention IP and technology issues have been garnering among the Canadian public, most of the political parties have specifically included digital issues as part of their party platforms. The following is a comparison of each major political parties stance on something that is becoming increasingly important to Canadians: Digital Issues.
The Conservatives have surprisingly little to say about digital issues in their party platform given that they have responded strongly to many recent digital issues such as usage based billing or foreign telecom ownership. While there is a commitment to “increase competition and choice and to lower costs for wireless consumers,” it is disappointing that there is no mention of how this goal will be achieved. It has been suggested that the Conservatives may be considering loosening the foreign ownership restrictions placed on telecoms, to increase competition following the recent overturning by the courts of the federal cabinet decision to allow Globalive (Wind Mobile) to operate despite the CRTC ruling denying them a license due to their level of involvement with Orascom Telecom (an Egyptian-based company).
Another way to increase competition would be through the upcoming wireless spectrum auction. The decision to set aside spectrum for new entrants in the last spectrum auction was instrumental in the creation of Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile, all new entrants that would otherwise not have had the resources to outbid the incumbent telecom providers. Given this goal of promoting competition in the wireless market, it is unfortunate the only specific commitment that the Conservative Party gives regarding the next wireless spectrum auction is to day that one of the key ways this goal can be accomplished is to “set aside spectrum for emergency responders.”
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there is no mention in the conservative party platform of usage based billing, something that the Conservative industry minister, Tony Clement, has been very vocal about. It is disappointing that the Conservatives did not address this issue in their platform, especially considering that both the Liberals and the NDP have done so. The one issue that most of the parties agree on is access to high speed internet in rural and remote communities. The Conservative Party’s commitment to this cause is to build upon a plan to “extend broadband coverage to 200,000 households in rural and remote regions.” There is also a commitment to re-introduce the Copyright Modernization Act (otherwise known as bill C-32) which has been extensively covered on IP Osgoode.
The Liberals, in contrast to the Conservatives, have the most to say on digital issues in their party platform, dedicating an entire page on their website to digital policy. Most surprising is their plan to institute an Open Internet Directive, which would require the CRTC to promote the principles of Net Neutrality when making decisions about the internet. These principles would ensure that Canadians aren’t “subjected to Internet traffic management practices that stifle competition, reduce consumer choice and innovation, or unfairly discriminate or restrict user access to lawful Internet content” and would require transparency in traffic management policies that would “ensure Canadians understand and have choice in how internet traffic is managed.” It is possible that this is in response to growing concern surrounding the bandwidth throttling practices of the major internet providers. Bandwidth throttling is usually used to prevent network congestion by limiting the speed of peer-to-peer technologies, which has been historically associated with copyright infringement. However, the technology has increasingly been used for legitimate purposes, resulting in the throttling of popular applications such as World of Warcraft.
The Liberals also state that they will oppose “anti-competitive usage-based billing.” While this statement takes a stance against the original usage based billing plan proposed by Bell, which the Liberals criticized as being anti-competitive, it is unclear if Bell’s alternate proposal, aggregated volume pricing, which is essentially usage based billing at the wholesale level instead of at the individual consumer level, would be considered an “anti-competitive” form of usage based billing that the Liberals would oppose. It is unfortunate that they were not clearer on this point.
While the Liberals do not indicate how they would organize the upcoming wireless spectrum auction, they do indicate that they would use $500 million of the proceeds from the auction to support public tender contracts to install broadband capacity in all rural and northern areas. Their goal is to provide “basic high-speed Internet access for all Canadian households within three years.” This was confirmed in a live chat on the Liberal website as ensuring coverage for every last Canadian, no matter the location, and is certainly a much greater commitment than the Conservatives have made.
Regarding copyright reform, the Liberals did not include many specifics regarding the proposed legislation in their platform, although they have made their position on Bill C-32 clear in the past. One proposal that they do include in their party platform, most likely to counter claims that they support an iPod levy, is the creation of a $35 million dollar private copying compensation fund to cover all devices instead of imposing a fee on any one particular device such as iPods or digital memory. This fund would be designed to compensate creators for illegal downloads. The Liberal Industry Critic Marc Garneau also issued a statement on his Twitter account that the “Liberals believe Copyright Bill C-32 must be amended to allow digital lock circumvention for non-infringing purposes” addressing one of the key criticisms of Bill C-32.
The NDP have also included many digital issues in their party platform. What is surprising is that they have perhaps made some the clearest statements regarding digital issues out of any of the parties. They intend to “enshrine ‘net neutrality’ in law, end price gouging and ‘net throttling,’ with clear rules for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), enforced by the CRTC.” By enshrining net neutrality in law, the NDP would provide net neutrality principles even greater legal protection than a directive to the CRTC. This would also be accompanied by a directive to “stand up for the public interest” which they say would “rescind the 2006 Conservative industry-oriented directive.”
Again, like the other parties, they do not indicate how the upcoming spectrum auction will be organized. They do indicate that they will apply the proceeds to “ensure all Canadians, no matter where they live, will have quality high-speed broadband internet access.” They also indicate that they would “expect the major internet carriers to contribute financially to this goal”, although they do not indicate any specifics.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in contrast to the Conservatives, they would not be open to loosening the foreign ownership restrictions on wireless carriers, indicating that they “will ensure Canadian TV and telecom networks remain Canadian-owned by maintaining effective regulations on foreign ownership.”
The Bloc Québécois
Unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois only provides their party platform in French. Quotes and analysis have been provided with the aid of Google translate. For a complete understanding of their party platform, please refer to the original French text in the sections referred. Unsurprisingly, their focus is on the province of Québec. They indicate at section 16.2.2 of their platform that they request “a plan for the deployment of broadband in rural areas so that almost all individuals have high speed Internet access throughout the territory inhabited Québec”
Again, unsurprisingly, they had the most to say about copyright reform. At section 2.3.2 they state that they would like to extend the current private copying regime by “applying [to] MP3 players and other portable digital players reasonable royalties to artists.” They would like to remove the proposed exemptions for education and grant a new resale right for visual artists and there is also a plan to establish “a formula requiring Internet service providers to pay a fee to a fund used to pay the creators [of] Quebec injured by the illegal downloading of artistic products.” The Bloc appears to be the most creator rights focused out of all the political parties.
The Green Party
Unfortunately, the Green Party did not address any digital issues in their party platform. However, they do have a section of their website related to internet issues. Most surprisingly, out of any of the political parties, the Green Party is the only one to actually say that they support “the principle of Fair Usage Based Billing for Internet services”. They indicate that “If implemented correctly, [usage based billing] would provide improved Internet access to Canadians by giving ISPs a way to curb the consumption of the very few who consume at the highest levels.” However, they do oppose the original usage based billing plan that was approved by the CRTC (and later withdrawn), stating that “by limiting the pricing options of smaller ISPs using their network, the CRTC has effectively crippled small businesses who provide valuable Internet services to thousands of Canadians.” While not specifically addressing copyright in their platform, they have stated in the past that “The Green Party supports the principles of fair use, consumer information privacy, communications market competition, and rationalization of the statutory damages provision.”
While there is no doubt that there are a lot of issues that are of interest to Canadians in this upcoming election, the fact that all the major political parties have addressed digital issues in their party platforms reflects how important Canadians consider these issues. With Canadians speaking up about topics such as copyright and usage based billing, spawning grassroots movements that are generating public interest and media attention, it appears that Canada’s political parties are listening.