Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 39 (2014) 501–506
©2014 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation


Review

By Martin Dowding
Wilfrid Laurier University


BR-3aThe Internet Tree: The State of Telecom Policy in Canada 3.0. Edited by Marita Moll and Leslie Regan Shade. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2011. 206 pp. ISBN 9781926888637.


Composed of entries by eighteen public interest advocates and academics, The Internet Tree is a critical treatise on the Canadian Government’s failure to sustain and improve access to online media, based on technical, economic, and social dilemmas. The book is structured in a series of sections designed to address the need for “openness, broadband as an essential service, community engagement and inclusion, national sovereignty, and digital literacy programs” (p. viii). The book’s title refers to a tree near Parliament Hill in Ottawa that until recently bore a makeshift aggregation of cables and boxes. It fittingly represented the uneven state of Canada’s access to the Internet, a medium Canadians have come to embrace wholeheartedly, but not yet universally, due to continuing market failures and increasing government restraint.

The book opens with the text of a lecture by Ryerson University’s broadband specialist, Catherine Middleton, who spoke as part of the Big Thinking series, supported by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Citing Canadian policymakers’ blind eye to the benefits of universal access, Middleton speaks to relatively highly committed efforts in Australia, Korea, and Singapore, as well as in Alberta, where better access is guaranteed by public and public-private models.

Following Middleton’s piece are ten brief but powerful Internet rights and principles that introduce The Internet Tree’s first main section, “Towards a National Digital Strategy for the Public Interest.” Compiled by the Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition (IRP), they include universality and equality; rights and social justice; accessibility; expression and association; privacy and data protection; life, liberty and security; diversity; network equality; standards and regulation; and governance. The principles provide both a well-articulated ideal and the justification for well-designed policy, as well as a fitting backdrop to the rest of the text.

Michael Geist’s entry, “Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy,” cites the outcome of then Industry Minister Tony Clement’s 2010 consultation on the digital economy. While Geist sees Clement as having “established himself as the most committed Industry Minister on digital issues since John Manley in the late 1990s” (p. 21), his main point is that the period between the Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC, 1994–1997) and Clement’s consultation represents “a decade of policy neglect” (p. 22). Geist’s main observations question who will lead economic strategy, who will pay for it, and what the role of open source software and open sharing of research should be.

“Towards a National Strategy for Digital Inclusion,” by committed community activist Garth Graham, promotes universal broadband access—rural, urban, for the poor and disenfranchised—as the foundation of a successful digital economy. He notes that Canada has no “blueprint” for inclusion and recommends methods by which one might emerge. He suggests that policymakers look to the country’s community services sector to create such a blueprint, particularly since they are well versed in providing access, having taken advantage of projects such as the Community Access Program (CAP).

One such community service group included here is Québec’s Communiteque, which condemns the Harper government’s inability to develop a pan-Canadian policy and points out that Canada has fallen to 27th place out of 30 OECD countries, both in speed and usage. They also condemn the government for not paying heed to the many dissenting voices in the public, academic, and private sectors. Communiteque’s most significant contribution in their “Manifesto” is a multi-faceted “Call to Action” addressed to local, Québec, and federal governments to commit to implementing and revitalizing digital policies.

 In section two of The Internet Tree, “Competition and Foreign Ownership Debates in Telecom,” lawyer Monica Auer illustrates that access and implementation problems stem largely from Canada’s size and sparse population. Lauer recalls that when Bell Canada was funded by foreign money in the 1880s, there was little service to rural areas, and no competition, which allowed for excessive rates. Her narrative follows various attempts at provincial “nationalization” and federal intervention that evolved to create the CRTC and ownership regulations. Auer also sheds light on a myriad of contemporary and far more complex foreign ownership problems than Bell’s early failure to provide affordable universal service. She concludes with advice to Parliament to create “clear and measurable goals” (p. 54) for Canada’s control over sovereignty, security, privacy, employment, and content.

Catherine Middleton appears again with “Structural and Functional Separation in Broadband Networks: An Insufficient Remedy to Competitive Woes in the Canadian Broadband Market,” in which she speaks to models of competition, including how the OECD favours “competition between different infrastructures as a foundation for broadband policy” (p. 61). Middleton argues that, while there is some competition between platforms, there is even less between companies that provide access via equivalent platforms. Middleton’s interpretation of the complex technological, political, and economic issues behind competition, under these circumstances, is very impressive. Despite her well-honed advice to government and service providers, however, she admits that, “neither functional nor structural separation alone will remedy the competitive issues in the Canadian broadband market” (p. 69).

Annemijn Van Gorp, now at The Hague University, was a post-doctorate fellow at Ryerson when she wrote “Barriers to Competition in Canada’s Residential Broadband Internet Market,” another critique of Canada’s diminishing commitment to access. Van Gorp compares the benefits and drawbacks of resale (“bitstream access,” a reservation of telco bandwidth not dedicated to actual connectivity), to “local loop unbundling,” whereby an ISP competitor “rents” copper from an established telco. Both options are barriers to competition, Van Gorp says. She suggests that “usage based billing, speed matching and internet throttling” (p. 76) are possible solutions. Van Gorp concludes that the federal government and the CRTC could be more “proactive” while suggesting that local and municipal governments could commit to funding infrastructure projects.

In the next section of The Internet Tree (“Security, Surveillance and Sovereignty”), Chris Parsons, a Political Science PhD student at the University of Victoria at the time of writing, asks “Is Your ISP Snooping on You?” Parsons observes that because most of our electronic communications are unencrypted (or like postcards, “open” for inspection), our messages are easy pickings for ISPs’ use of “deep packet inspection” (DPI). DPI allows ISP networks to analyze address and content information to direct advertisements to us based on our online activity. Parsons observes that VoIP is also subject to privacy intervention, and he points out that such infringement has been highlighted to the CRTC and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) of Canada, which investigated Bell’s Sympatico to determine whether it was using DPI to “collect and use personal information from its customers without consent” (p. 87).

Marita Moll’s “Trading Sovereignty for Surveillance in the Telecommunications Sector” brings to light the government’s evasion of the obvious when asking Canadians for advice. Despite caution from the CRTC against further opening the telecom market to the private sector and foreign investors—as well as foreign surveillance—the government plans nonetheless went ahead. This was compounded by the government’s failed attempts to re-introduce the warrantless “lawful access” legislation that would intrude on Canadians’ cyber-privacy, although her point may be moot given recent revelations about ISPs’ willingness to do so.

Six entries comprise the “Accessibility, Social Inclusion and Openness in Telecom Infrastructure” section of the book. Michael Janigan, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) asks “Will Universality be Saved?” and argues that local telephone competition, as proposed by then Industry Minister Maxime Bernier would do no such thing. Janigan clarifies the concept of “universality” as laid out by the U.S. Telecommunications Act (1996) to help define Canada’s similar concept in our own legislation. Janigan points to Section 7 of our own Telecom Act to make clear that “basic” universal service objectives are already in place. He closes with estimations of what future universal service in Canada might look like, taking into account changing technologies, guarantees for broadband universality, and the CRTC’s reliance on market forces to fulfill universality requirements in an oligopolistic market.

Steve Anderson, founder and coordinator of Openmedia.ca, opens “Net Neutrality: Closing in on Internet Openness” by referring to the creation of activist media project Rabble.ca in 2001. Since they were Internet-based, they apparently did not need permission to enter the media market due to fundamental “common carrier” principles behind the Internet. This, he argues, happened not long after the CRTC had moved away from regulating the Internet, which could potentially allow Bell, Telus, and other large ISPs to demand burdensome fees from groups such as Rabble.ca. Anderson offers a concise history of why net neutrality is vital to openness, and, just as importantly, his definition of the concept is crystal clear.

Graham Longford’s “Spectrum Policy: Squandering the Digital Dividend?” provides another sorely needed definition of access. In the chapter, he highlights the inappropriateness of the government’s auctioning of spectrum to a small group of “deep-pocketed incumbent carriers” (p. 126). He also points to mergers, and the government’s eagerness to sell to foreign interests as well as its general disinterest in abiding by the Telecommunications Act, all of which do not bode well for universal access. Longford concludes by saying “citizens’ groups, municipalities, and amateur groups” (p. 131) might be relied upon to reclaim the spectrum commons, with the appropriate education and vision.

Marita Moll’s short piece, “Fibre Not Satellite for Local Economic Development,” also addresses the issue of universality, but in the context of rural and remote areas. She compares and contrasts the relative benefits of dial-up, broadband, and satellites in a variety of locations and observes that community network advocates prefer the stability of fibre to support health, education, and small business—in other words, what is truly basic, essential, and, as she argues, most reliable, given the demographic and remote locations.

Fenwick McKelvey brings to light a speculative solution to our evaluation of our usage (instead of the government or private sector’s) in “Making Traffic Public: A Proposal for a Public Study of Internet Usage in Canada.” McKelvey describes a number of techniques created by NGOs to interpret questionable activities of ISPs, such as traffic throttling and interference of peer-to-peer large file downloading (or blocking “BitTorrent traffic”) to point out why such a public study is vital. His proposal, however, involves the voluntary sharing of data (which involves a question of trust) and perhaps too much technical knowledge for the “average” user.

In “Swimming Upstream: Accessibility and Telecommunications Policy,” University of Manitoba Disability Studies Professor Deborah Stienstra criticizes the CRTC’s 2009 policy decision that regulates “accessibility” as a service issue but neglects to address current and forthcoming technology design. She points to relatively better efforts in Australia and the U.S. and cites the way in which Canadian disability groups have proposed that the Charter and the Human Rights Act can provide the means to overcome communicative inequality.

The Internet Tree’s final section, “Communication, Privacy and Copyright,” includes pieces on online government initiatives, children’s privacy, and intellectual property. “Communication Rights and Canada’s Government Online” by Richard Smith (Simon Fraser University), Michael Felczak, and Geoffrey Glass (both Simon Fraser University PhD students at the time of writing), condemns the federal government for having “failed to adequately ensure the communication rights of certain segments of the Canadian population and for certain forms of communication” (p. 164). Paramount in their argument is that the government has failed to guarantee the right to know and the right to communicate by not being consistent in the use of free and open access software (FOSS). The authors propose policy recommendations to transform the government’s Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet in order to ensure full and valid public consultations and access to government information.

In “Children’s Online Privacy: Policy Concerns,” Valerie Steeves (University of Ottawa) defends children’s rights to “play” online without having to give up personal information “in ways that promote commercial consumption” (p. 175). Sites such as Webkinz, known for its copyright appropriation of children’s creativity, and Club Penguin, which encourages “spying” by children who see any “inappropriate behaviour on the part of other children” (p. 176), are especially problematic for Steeves. She looks to the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), which has become the “de facto standard for data protection on children’s websites” (p. 176), as well as Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) as examples of important but flawed efforts to protect children’s privacy.

Concordia University librarian Olivier Charbonneau’s “ACTA: A Copyright Story” speaks to an as-of-yet unratified piece of draconian intellectual property legislation (at the time of writing it was a draft treaty), aimed largely at the Internet. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was proposed by a handful of countries beginning in 2004 (in secret) to augment existing national and international copyright agreements in response to challenges posed by new and changing information technologies. Copyright is already difficult to understand, and as Charbonneau says, “it is difficult to deconstruct the draft treaty” (of ACTA) (p. 191). This piece is presented as a narrative, but given the complex and constantly morphing story of copyright, readers will need to look elsewhere for the latest developments.

The book’s last entry, “A World on Edge and the ‘Crisis of the Media’: Afterword,” by Carleton University political economist Dwayne Winseck, is a complex cautionary tale about the global economy, new media, and the (potential) adverse effects of new media on advertising in the ‘old order’ media networks. Winseck provides a longitudinal (1984–2008) analysis of “[t]he growing network media economy” (pp. 196–199) and describes “[m]edia merger mania and bloated media behemoths” (pp. 199–203)—complete with excellent graphs—to argue that not all media have suffered during some of the recent economic crises. However, a “nasty media culture has emerged” (p. 205), he says, characterized by job cuts and lockouts, brought on by some of our biggest media corporations “who took the lead in fostering the same conditions that gave rise to the global financial crisis in general” (p. 205).

While this is not a handbook on policymaking, it conveys excellent methods for speaking the truth about equitable and affordable access to the power of the market and the state. The Internet Tree is highly recommended reading for graduate students, faculty, and any government media analysts who happen to be listening. 




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