Why Canadians may need an education in net neutrality

It is utterly naïve, not to mention unethical, to ask people toweigh in on something they don’t understand and present the results asevidence of a majority view.

This was the approach taken by The Canadian Press and Harris/Decima,who released the results of a poll on Wednesday that concluded “Most Canadians support reasonable Internet traffic management.”Expect to see that headline, which will be syndicated in hundreds ofmedia outlets across the country, bandied about by Rogers and otherswho recently testified before the CRTC. The problem with the headlineis that many people might not read the full story, which debunks it.

“Only about one in five of those surveyed had heard of Internettraffic management or ‘traffic shaping,’ a contentious issue now beforethe federal regulator,” the story said. I presume those polled weresimilarly unaware of the term “traffic throttling,” which sounds muchmore ominous than Internet traffic management but was probably not usedin the questions posed. This is like the difference between the terms“downsizing” and “rightsizing” when companies lay off staff.

Though the story did not break down the opinions based on those whoactually knew what they were being polled about and the four out offive that didn’t, the following stat was offered:

Sixty per cent of survey respondents said they found thepractice reasonable as long as customers are treated fairly, while 22per cent said Internet management is unreasonable regardless.

It has never been a question of whether customers are being treatedfairly. It is a question of whether ISPs should be given the authorityto treat customers fairly or otherwise. That’s the point of regulation,and what’s why the CRTC is examining this issue so closely. Some ISPsare telling the CRTC that their network can’t provide the quality ofservice they advertise unless they manipulate the flow of data, therebyimpairing the performance of certain users’ online activities orselected Web sites. This is a debate about power, and the insult ofthis poll and CP’s coverage is its attempt to portray everydayCanadians as indifferent to who has power over them.

“Most – 54 per cent – said they did not know whether trafficmanagement affects them personally. Just 15 per cent said they areaffected by the practice,” CP said. It did not spell out whether that15 per cent were those who understood what traffic throttling – excuseme, Internet traffic management – is, or whether these were among the22 per cent who think the practice is unreasonable.

IT managers won’t be able to shape this policy, but they can helpeducate the users around them, whether it be their coworkers, theirfamily or friends. If CP and Harris Decima are going to try and pretendto take the nation’s pulse, it may be up to the rest of us to make surethe nation is using its brain, too.

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