Green Party pledges net neutrality support

The federal Green Party has become Canada’s first major political party to address net neutrality in its policy platform, but industry experts don’t expect the issue will be debated during election campaigns anytime soon.

In its party platform, released earlier this week, the party called for net neutrality legislation prohibiting Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from “discriminating due to content while freeing them from liability for content transmitted through their systems.”

Net neutrality, as defined by the Green Party, is the idea that a useful public information network treats all content, sites, and platforms equally, thus allowing the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application. In its party policy statement, it argued against ISPs allowing corporations the ability to pay for preferential treatment and faster services for their data.

“This is very much in-line with the principles of the Green Party,” Adriane Carr, deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada, said. “It’s really about individuals having greater access, open technology and freedom. We’re advocating the rights of people and open access and no the proprietary ownership of the net, which can limit people’s ability and freedom in the use of it.”

But whether or not the net neutrality debate will ever be in the minds of voters come federal election time remains to be seen. Carr said she is optimistic that more Canadians will become savvy to the issue over the coming years and hopes to see more discussion on the subject.

“The Net is about how people get their information and the idea of net neutrality is in line with people’s desires to access, retrieve and participate in the biggest venue for sharing information the world has ever seen,” Carr said.

Tom Copeland, the chair of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), said that the Green Party’s stance on the issue was a little unusual and, considering that the majority of Canadians have never heard of net neutrality, it’s unlikely to emerge as an election issue in the foreseeable future.

“We can’t get the government to address spam and broadband access, so net neutrality’s not going to go anywhere, in my opinion, until we at least get some of these other Internet basics covered,” Copeland said. “If there’s going to be an election in the next year, I can’t imagine any parties are going to make net neutrality a serious part of their campaign platforms. When it gets down to the nitty gritty of, ‘Do we allow special access to content,’ I really don’t think politicians have done enough work on that to understand the ramifications.”

But because of the Green Party’s predominately young group of supporters, Carr said, the net neutrality debate may be unavoidable for Canadian policy makers.

“Youth in particular are so dependent on and savvy to technology as it’s part of their culture,” Carr said. “I think there will be an increasing pressure for net neutrality legislation because it’s in line with the values of a free society and a participatory democracy, which we know that youth are very keen on. We have young people working for our party and contributing to the development of our policy, so this came straight out of those people active in our campaign.”

And while the debate is still open to the federal Liberal, Conservative and NDP parties, one industry expert said these parties, as well as Parliament itself, are too far behind the times to enter the discussion and doesn’t expect to see the words ‘net neutrality’ printed in any other policy platforms.

“When talking to politicians that already have seats, I see an almost generation gap in policy issues,” Russell McOrmond, an Internet consultant and head of Digital Copyright Canada, said. “Most of the parliamentarians, when they’re talking about technology law issues are stuck in the 1980s. So forget about net neutrality, they don’t even understand what an iPod is yet. So, I’d love it if net neutrality became an election issue, but the realistic side of me thinks that it won’t happen because Parliament is twenty years behind what’s really going on in the world.”

McOrmond said that he has seen this generational gap first hand, and cited a Canadian Heritage committee meeting on media concentration to illustrate his point.

“If you interpret the words that were being used in these committee reports and then modernize them to the current day, what they were essentially talking about was net neutrality,” McOrmond said. “They were talking about big broadcasters, these companies undertaking telecommunication giants, and the government having to regulate them. This is very similar to net neutrality except that principle is about removing centralized regulation and centralized control in the first place.”

As for the Green Party’s take on how the other parties may react, Carr said the “older parties” will catch up on this when they start to become more in tune with the younger generation. But for industry experts such as Copeland and McOrmond, how much of an impact this head start will have at the ballot box is still in question.