Recent threats to net neutrality have begun to spread to Canada.
Bell Media, one of the largest telecom companies in Canada, has submitted a proposal to the CRTC that outlines a plan to quash net neutrality to Canada, according to documents obtained by Canadaland. The documents detail the forming of a coalition of companies that will push the regulatory commission to create non-profit corporation intended to create and keep a list of websites it found to be pushing pirated materials, then force all internet providers in the country to block access to them. This new corporation would be called the Internet Piracy Review Agency (IPRA).
The coalition would include some of the biggest companies in Canada, from broadcasters to movie studios. Names on the Canadaland obtained documents include another of the biggest telecom companies in the country, Rogers, as well as the huge theatre and entertainment chain Cineplex. A complete list has not been finalized but will surface on December 19 when the coalition files the completed application to the CRTC, reports Canadaland. American companies will not be on the list, but may join once the process is initiated.
If the application is approved and the new corporation and CRTC have the power to block websites, it will set a dangerous precedent that will ignore laws until after damage has been done. Sites and providers will be blocked first, perhaps without warning, then possibly undergo an appeal process. For many sites, a prolonged shutdown can be a death knell, and if that power is placed in the wrong hands, it creates scary implications for smaller organizations who may not be able to fight against the likes of Bell and Rogers.
The CRTC currently has the power to order the blocking of websites, but very rarely uses the option and won’t always ban a site even if it breaks copyright laws.
Bell stood before a House of Commons committee earlier this year and unsuccessfully asked for provisions similar to what they are asking for here.
“We would like to see measures put in place whereby all internet service providers are required to block consumer access to pirated websites. In our view, that’s the only way to stop it,” said Rob Malcomson, Bell’s senior VP for regulatory affairs, in a September government hearing. “You would mandate all ISPs across the country to essentially block access to a blacklist of egregious piracy sites.”
Internet piracy is actually falling across almost every medium according to recent studies. The rise of low-cost streaming services like Spotify and Netflix is allowing users to find everything they want through legal and easy-to-access methods, keeping them away from illegal downloads. Still, it seems like Bell, Rogers and others think piracy is enough of a problem to take things into their own hands.
Net neutrality has been an incredibly volatile issue in the U.S. over the past four months as the FCC rallies to abolish the laws set in place a few years ago. If net neutrality were to disappear, ISPs could throttle access to certain sites and services, creating a market that serves only the upper echelon of organizations, leaving smaller companies and sites in the dust. Almost every single big business is against repealing net neutrality, including Facebook, Netflix and Microsoft, while the only companies that support its removal are the ones who will profit off it—ISPs like Verizon and AT&T.
Parallels between the U.S.’s fight against American ISP giants for net neutrality can be drawn to Canada’s own battle. The country’s largest ISPs are fighting to create this anti-piracy coalition, leading to a slippery slope that may give them access to what constitutes piracy and what deserves to be banned. It’s easy to say piracy is bad and must be stopped, but a “ban first and ask questions later” mentality will only hurt small companies and further pad the pockets of the largest telecom providers in the country.
This story is developing and has not yet been confirmed by Bell, but look to December 19 and see if Bell’s application goes through. If it does, the same kinds of protests happening all around the U.S. over the last four months may begin to take shape in Canada.