Net Neutrality 101
25 Pages Posted: 1 May 2011
Date Written: 2007
Network neutrality is a controversy of American origin, which, given the American foundations of the internet, has spread to a number of other jurisdictions, including Canada. In this article, I attempt to provide an introduction to the issues in a Canadian context for the non-specialist. Network neutrality is a debate about the public interests in freedom of expression, consumer protection, and economic growth and innovation, as they are mediated by the expansion of broadband internet access. I attempt to make the technical underpinnings comprehensible and to introduce many of the terms of art employed in the discussion. Comparisons of the Canadian and American legal contexts and of the issues in question clarify the potential requirement for regulatory intervention in Canada. I examine the issue as it presents itself in practice, that is, in the light of the actual functioning of the internet today. I summarize the principal arguments of the advocates and opponents of network neutrality regulation and weigh them against the public interests at stake. The intersection of the internet and broadcasting worlds enabled by broadband leads to the perennial issue of Canadian content. Does the internet represent a threat to the ability of Canadian broadcasting licensees to meet their Canadian content obligations and if so, should the technologies which underlie the network neutrality issue be employed in the interests of preserving the current Canadian model? I conclude, in accord with recent OECD and Federal Trade Commission study groups, that the case for regulatory action to control network operators’ prerogatives to manage access and traffic on the internet remains to be made.
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