Speech on M-168 Net Neutrality

May 23, 2018

Madam Speaker, I rise today on behalf of my constituents in Guelph in support of Motion No. 168 proposed by the hon. member for Oakville. I would like to thank him for bringing the important subject of net neutrality forward to the House floor for debate today. It is good to see that we have general support around the House. As chair of the innovation and technology caucus, I know that this issue affects not only our public discourse in many ways but also the seen and unseen things that the Internet provides all Canadians. We must recognize the importance this policy will have on ourselves and future generations of Canadians.

Net neutrality has been called the critical issue of our times, much like the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression that came before it. Net neutrality ensures that the Internet service providers enable access to all content and all application, regardless of their source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites. This simple and seemingly uncontroversial statement is at the centre of modern public discourse and the digital economy.

Net neutrality is a key driver of the Internet, currently the largest information-sharing system in human history. The power of this platform to shape economies and public discourse cannot be ignored. Without this standard open and neutral Internet we could commit a double offence, first at the expense of entrepreneurs, and second to Canadian citizens. Entrepreneurs are constantly on the lookout to try and spread the word of their business. If access to the Internet is limited or controlled, small business owners who want to use it to grow their business will lose one of their greatest tools in doing so. Canadians who want access to the services provided by our entrepreneurs or information provided by our colleges and universities will be denied that chance if larger firms outbid small businesses for marketing opportunities.

Net neutrality is, in many ways, what represents the best of capitalism and the best of our economy. Freedom of the individual, open access to markets, healthy competition, and diversity of goods and services are all values upheld by net neutrality. Protecting emerging markets for e-commerce is one crucial reason to support net neutrality. The second is preserving our democracy and the integrity of our public discourse, which depends on accurate information being available to everyone.

Information is the currency of democracy. We are living in an age where new platforms for exchanging information are being developed. These new platforms can have a tremendous sway on our political system. Maintaining free and open communications is critical as we explore new ways to provide open government. Therefore, as legislators and representatives of Canadians, it is incumbent upon us to protect the avenues through which information flows. Net neutrality is a necessary tool to prevent any form of private enterprise from exerting undue control over the free flow of information. It also safeguards against attempts to bias information available as selected by private interests. Net neutrality provides access to public and private broadcasters alike, and does not favour one political or business bias over another.

We have seen the harm done by concerted and sophisticated efforts to spread misinformation. While our government moves to make government more open and improve the democratic process through Bill C-76, we cannot simultaneously work against our own interests by limiting the flow of information on the Internet. In just over 20 years, the Internet has become the new forum for discussion on any subject. It needs to remain an open platform for public discourse, subject to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and anti-hate legislation.

It is curious that we find ourselves here defending what should be an uncontroversial idea. However, recent efforts around the world to question and erode net neutrality are cause for great concern, particularly as discourse becomes polarized. Therefore, it is good that we have the opportunity to discuss this on behalf of Canadians.

Thankfully, in Canada we have a strong network of regulations and legislation to protect net neutrality. These come in the form of the Telecommunications Act and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or the CRTC.

The Telecommunications Act, section 27, prevents Internet service providers from providing undue benefit or discrimination for their services. As well, section 36 prevents Internet service providers from controlling or influencing the meaning of communications carried by it, for the public. These sections need to be maintained to prevent throttling websites blocking, or in other ways controlling internet traffic.

This legislation is backed up with a recent decision reached just last year by the CRTC, which outlined several guides and requirements. They found that charging different prices for different types of content, such as music, news, videos, or other types of content is prohibited. Consumer protection was also strengthened by mandating full disclosure of Internet traffic management practices.

This ruling strengthens Canada's commitment to net neutrality by declaring that Internet service providers should treat data traffic equally. It reaffirms Canada's commitment to economic growth and entrepreneurship, and promotes the freedom of speech and diversity of views that Canadians cherish.

The Internet, as it exists now, is a shadow of its future self. It has already come to be an invaluable tool for growing commerce, spreading knowledge, and culture. By its nature, the Internet is democratic. With it, musicians can gain renown and fame. Entrepreneurs can offer their goods and services at home and abroad, and Canadian culture and tourism benefit as the eyes of the world can see what Canadians have to offer.

Should Canada and other nations change their stance and participate in the emerging trend to privatize access to the Internet, we will all lose. Record labels could use their buying power to ensure select artists are the ones available to consumers. Entrepreneurs could have difficulty competing with large firms that can afford to market themselves, and costs to promote Canadian culture outside Canada, and perhaps even within Canada, could greatly increase.

In a modern digital age, the free exchange of ideas and the free access to markets are what is at stake. Canada must take the initiative and show leadership on the international stage. Free and open access to the internet is the cornerstone upon which democracy and the future digital economy will be relying.

I would like to once again thank my honourable colleague from Oakville for the great work on bringing this motion forward and for having us discuss it tonight in the House. I encourage all members of this House to support this important motion.