That the House: (a) recognize that the Internet has thrived due to net neutrality principles of openness, transparency, freedom, and innovation; (b) recognize that Canada has strong net neutrality rules in place that are grounded in the Telecommunications Act and enforced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC); (c) recognize that preserving an open Internet and the free flow of information is vital for the freedom of expression and diversity, education, entrepreneurship, innovation, Canadian democracy, and the future economic and social prosperity of Canadians; (d) express its firm support for net neutrality and the continued preservation of an open Internet, free from unjust discrimination and interference; and (e) call on the government to include net neutrality as a guiding principle of the upcoming Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act reviews in order to explore opportunities to further enshrine in legislation the principles of neutrality in the provision and carriage of all telecommunications services.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to start debate on Motion No. 168. At the outset, I would like to thank Mr. Andrew Quinn for his diligence, hard work, and excellent research on this topic, and also my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle for seconding the motion.
Motion No. 168 is a motion to strengthen and protect an open Internet in Canada by ensuring that net neutrality is a guiding principle in the Government of Canada's upcoming review of the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act. The object is to further enshrine in legislation the principles of neutrality in the provision and carriage of all telecommunications services.
Net neutrality is an issue that has become increasingly important to Canadians, and it is imperative for the Government of Canada to reaffirm our commitment to preserving a fair and open Internet for Canadians. I also believe it is time for Canadians to have a robust conversation about this issue.
While some may be unfamiliar with the term net neutrality, every Canadian has experienced its benefits. Net neutrality is the concept that all web traffic should be given equal treatment by Internet service providers, or ISPs, a term I will be using a lot. Under net neutrality rules, ISPs should be prevented from blocking or slowing down access to lawful content, nor should they be allowed to create fast lanes for content providers willing to pay extra. For example, net neutrality laws would prevent an ISP from slowing down one's access to a content provider such as Netflix to encourage one to move to a rival content provider that pays the ISP more money for faster streaming speeds. The concept of net neutrality is ingrained in the way we consume and exchange information in Canada and has contributed to the success of Canada's economy.
It is important to note that the term net neutrality is not expressly used or defined in the Telecommunications Act. As it currently stands, Canada has demonstrated a commitment to net neutrality, and we enjoy some of the protections through the concept of common carriage.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, defines net neutrality as:
the concept that all traffic on the Internet should be given equal treatment by Internet providers with little to no manipulation, interference, prioritization, discrimination or preference given.
Interestingly, the sections of the Telecommunications Act that deal with the idea of net neutrality predate the term itself and predate the Internet. It has been pointed out that the concept of common carriage in Canada dates back to the Canadian Railways Act, 1906. Chris Seidl, executive director of telecommunications for the CRTC, states:
It turns out that the same principles are effective whether we're referring to cargo transported on railway cars or data carried over telecommunication networks. It is important to keep in mind that net neutrality is focused on carriage rather than content.
Because these sections were written in a technology neutral manner, they have allowed the CRTC to protect the idea of net neutrality in its policies. However, I do not think it is enough to accept the status quo. The CRTC has defined net neutrality, and it is clear that it understands and agrees with this concept. Therefore, the government should modernize the legislation by enshrining the definition and the concept in the Telecommunications Act.
In speaking to residents in my riding of Oakville, I heard loud and clear that this is a priority. In my riding of Oakville, whether is was CEOs, entrepreneurs, business leaders, youth on my constituency youth council, or just everyday Oakvillians, they all supported net neutrality.
I introduced this motion at Sheridan College to a room full of computer, applied sciences, and Internet communications students and faculty. Collectively, the students and faculty were engaged and were significantly worried about this issue. They had thoughtful and in-depth questions about how this motion would work and how much net neutrality is needed in today's Canada. It is very fulfilling to see a younger generation passionate about a topic and engaged with our democratic processes. This is clearly an issue that transcends traditional divides and has strong support across Canada.
Let me outline some of the reasons for strengthening net neutrality. So much of how we live our lives now happens online. It is important that the Internet remain an open forum for us to express ideas, reach new markets, and preserve the opportunity for democratic conversations. The Internet has thrived due to the net neutrality principles of openness, transparency, freedom, and innovation. This needs to be continued and protected.
Net neutrality allows every Canadian to access lawful content on the Internet without interference from third parties. It underscores our freedom to express and share ideas. Net neutrality prevents third parties, like ISPs or telecommunications providers, from choosing which content Canadians see. It prevents corporations from becoming censors, which has dangerous implications for Canadians' fundamental right to freedom of expression. Further, our digital economy is built on the foundation of net neutrality.
Let me expand on some of these points a bit more. Consumers, everyday Canadians, stand to be most affected if there was the loss of net neutrality. I introduced the motion because I believe it is our government's role to protect consumers from unfair circumstances and to promote competition in the Canadian economy. Reaffirming net neutrality in Canada would do just that. We need to preserve an environment online that favours consumers' freedom instead of corporations' profits and that promotes diversity and entrepreneurship instead of monopolies.
Mobile carriers and ISPs should provide a platform through which consumers are able to access and share content without intervention. Consumers should be concerned if ISPs are able to prevent what they are able to access online. The ramifications of that interference are part of why I am asking our government to reaffirm its commitment to net neutrality. We need to be on the side of the consumers.
Net neutrality also promotes competition in a way that allows for better quality products and services for Canadians. Consumer-oriented competition is valuable for Canadians and for our economy. Competition between ISPs will continue to lead to innovation and excellence. ISPs can and do compete on the price of their packages, the quality of service, and data plans. I think all Canadians would applaud continued investment in infrastructure, better connection speeds, and better service.
The loss of net neutrality would also affect our rights and freedoms. Canadians cherish our right to express our ideas and beliefs openly, so much so that we enshrined our freedom of thought, beliefs, opinions, and expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without a firm commitment to net neutrality, the freedom of Canadians to express themselves online could be undermined. If net neutrality was repealed or scaled back, the possibility that third parties could essentially censor content for financial or ideological gain would be a real possibility.
This is alarming, and it should raise concerns for all Canadians. The Internet is a forum for Canadians to exchange ideas, get exposure to new and different points of view, and explore new and unfamiliar concepts. It is imperative that we keep it that way.
Let us talk about politics. In this day and age, most Canadians get their news online. Much of people's perceptions and world views are based on the articles they read, many of which are online. Access to a wide range of information, from a variety of sources, is a valuable tool for developing a well-rounded, informed view on political issues.
I know that every member of the House understands the value of discourse and debate in politics. Our democracy is deeply tied to our freedom of expression, and net neutrality is the foundation of our democratic expression online.
Third parties like ISPs and mobile carriers should not have the ability to limit Canadians' ability to see content from political parties or to access media from all political leanings and viewpoints. This allows for a wider conversation and ensures that Canadians have access to arguments on all sides of political issues. Reaffirming our commitment to net neutrality would preserve open democratic discussion from all perspectives and make sure that Canadian democracy remains healthy, open, and strong.
One of the most important reasons to ensure continued longevity and support for net neutrality in Canada is our vast and quickly growing digital economy. According to the Information and Communications Technology Council, the digital economy accounted for $71.5 billion of Canada's GDP in 2015, and it has been increasing each year since.
We all hear and read stories of the next best product or service coming from a Canadian company or entrepreneur. It is vitally important that we make sure that this continues. Net neutrality allows for an even playing field for everyone. A young entrepreneur, fresh out of university with the next big idea, is relying on opportunities afforded by a fair and open Internet to get into business.
Let us say that some entrepreneurs are building a bigger and better video streaming service. Imagine that they have raised the money, built out the product, launched it into the world, and are getting their first customers. They are doing well and are starting to grow, but the next thing they know, their ISP comes along and says that unless they pay a substantial fee, it is going to slow down their content to their customers. They do not have the money to pay for that.
Customers are not going to select their product to get slow service. Nobody wants constantly buffering videos. They know that they have built a product that is better than the competition, but they cannot afford to pay the additional fees just to distribute the content.
There is a term for this. It is called highway robbery. ISPs make their money from selling Internet access to consumers. They should not be charging companies at the other end of the pipe as well.
How could any new company get started if it could not compete? Without net neutrality, we would stifle innovation and undermine our digital economy.
Let us take it one step further. These entrepreneurs have built the video streaming service. Canadians all over the country are flocking to their program. A big ISP sees this. It has a competing video program, and it does not like that it is losing customers to the new service. Rather than competing, that ISP just blocks the service entirely so that no one can access it.
That is exactly what happened in the United States in 2012, when AT&T blocked FaceTime, a video chat service created by Apple. It was blocked to all of its U.S. customers, because it was competing with AT&T's own service.
Some will say that this is Canada and it would never happen here. It has happened, and without net neutrality, it will happen again.
In 2015, Bell made a complaint against the wireless carrier Videotron. Videotron had launched a feature in August of that year enabling customers to stream music from specific music streaming services without it counting against a monthly data cap. It was a way to entice people to subscribe to Videotron's Internet service. In 2017, the CRTC ruled in favour of Bell so that all data used by a consumer had to be treated equally and no inherent favour could be given to an ISP's in-house services.
This differential pricing practice, known as zero-rating, allows Internet providers to charge different prices depending on the type of app or service a person uses. Once ISPs and mobile carriers are able to exempt data from a data cap, they can start to favour and prioritize content. That is unacceptable, and we can never let it happen again.
Every ruling on net neutrality is a concern when the concept is never expressly defined in the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act.
For all these reasons, it is clear that net neutrality is vitally important for Canada. Our democracy, our economy, and even simple social interactions are reliant on a neutral and open Internet. We need to support Canadians, whether entrepreneurs, political advocates, or online consumers.
I hope this motion is a catalyst for all stakeholders, businesses, consumers, the government, ISPs, and Canadians to come together to discuss net neutrality as part of the upcoming review of both the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act. A conversation needs to happen, and now is the time.
The House must provide leadership on this important issue. We must call on the government to include net neutrality as a guiding principle in the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act reviews in order to explore opportunities to further enshrine in legislation the principles of neutrality in the provision and carriage of all telecommunications services.
Canada needs to reaffirm its commitment to net neutrality. I have no doubt that Canadians will say loudly that they want net neutrality strengthened and protected. That is why I have brought forward Motion No. 168. I look forward to hearing debate on it.