Phillip Smith

Net neutrality is also grassroots media issue

The Tyee does a great job igniting the conversation on net neutrality in Canada. Thanks to the Save the Internet campaign, many folks up here know about the issue as it relates to the Telcoms in the US; however, as The Tyee points out, the issue is flying under some radars here in Soviet Canuckistan.

The examples of overzealous Canadian Telcos that have tried to shut down free speech are important to document, and to bring people's attention to. For me, this is the heart of the issue: an independent, grassroots, media is a critical part of a functioning democracy, and net neutrality is critical part of a functioning independent media. The article does a great job laying the issue out (and you should read it, and sign the petition!), and I specifically wanted to draw attention to the comments of one of my favourite, tireless, freedom fighters -- Russell McOrmond:

An entirely separate issue is Network Neutrality which says that all bits should be treated (and charged) the same regardless of the source, destination, or contents. It is important for people to realize that this is a separate issue than the bandwidth issue, so congestion and other such issues (caused by over- subscription by ISPs) are also entirely separate.

Say I write a book with Microsoft Office. If the book turns out to be a best seller, should Microsoft receive a cut of the royalties? Most rational people would say no, Microsoft was paid for Office when it was purchased, and it should never matter how valuable the content is that is created using this tool. This is in fact what the Telecommunications Companies are asking for -- they want a cut of the value that other people are generating simply because wires which they manage (and customers already paid for) are being used.

Our past Industrial economy was largely built on top of what could be called "Road Neutrality". The road networks, largely owned and managed by various levels of government, charged taxes to pay for them but didn't charge based on the "value" of what people were transporting. I believe most rational people would realize that our capitalist economy could not exist without this common transportation infrastructure working that way.

I'm not suggesting we need to nationalize the entire of the communications infrastructure and manage them the same way we currently manage roads. I do, however, believe that this infrastructure needs to be regulated to offer a similar effect, while still allowing for competing private sector offerings relating to different technologies (Wired, Wireless, Fiber, etc). If regulation is not sufficient to protect the necessary neutrality, then nationalizing the communications infrastructure would be warranted.

The argument that the telecommunications companies "own" the wires and should be allowed to break with the Neutrality required to have a capitalist economy is entirely without merit. The physical system that these wires are placed in are largely "owned" by the public sector (or created by governments stepping in and creating right-of-way exceptions to privately owned real-property). On top of this, this communications infrastructure has always been highly government subsidized in the form of direct grants and tax incentives.

Government offer these right-of-ways to put wires under our cities , provinces or countries under specific conditions. I believe that Neutrality should be one of the basic conditions. If the providers don't like those terms, and that is their choice, then they should no longer be allowed to put wires under our country, or use the spectrum managed by our governments on our behalf.

Sounds fair to me. If private sector companies aren't willing to be part of the infrastructure in a fair and honest way, then the public sector will simply need to manage the communications infrastructure as the transportation infrastructure has been.

Well put Mr. McOrmond


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


Want to launch a local news business? Apply now for the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp

I’m excited to announce that applications are now open again for the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp. And I’m even more excited to ...… Continue reading