incident ended up being only a small part of a rancorous labour dispute that was
finally settled that fall, but it remains a rallying cry for Canadian supporters
of state regulation of the market for broadband Internet services, otherwise
known as network neutrality.
The would-be regulators ask, in effect: If Telus bosses can block access to a
site they don't like, what's to prevent any other Internet Service Provider (ISP)
from doing the same? Instead of the open and content-neutral Internet we all use
and enjoy today, we may soon be faced with a balkanized system of partially-overlapping
"walled gardens" in which service providers give fast and reliable access to the
sites and services of their corporate partners while blocking or slowing down
access to other sites that don't pay them or reflect their corporate ideology.
One herald of this grim dystopian future imagines a rate-card from an ISP,
offering access to various corporate sites for a low monthly rate, with access
to other sites, like YouTube and Blogspot,
costing much more.
Instead of the free and
open information highway, we'll have toll roads. Or so we have been hearing for
a few years now, while the Tory government here in Canada, and successive
governments in the US, have dragged their heels about introducing the
regulations necessary to prevent the looming disaster. At present the three
opposition parties in parliament agree unanimously that something must be done.
Only the Conservatives are reticent.
The End of the (Virtual) World As We Know It?
time to time, a new development raises the threat level. Most recently, a joint
deal reached by Google and Verizon to offer "premium" high-bandwidth channels
for certain content over a proposed global network raised a flurry of alarms. If
we miss the opportunity to protect consumers now, say proponents of regulation,
if we fail to enforce neutrality with respect to sources and types of data
transmitted, we face the end of the Internet as we know it.
So far though, apart from
the Telus incident and a few disputed cases of bandwidth-throttling, the most
dire predictions have not come to pass. While examples of state censorship of
the Internet are easy to find—from China's "great firewall" to Saudi Telecom's
ban on Blackberry messaging—the supposedly inexorable corporate censorship of
the Internet has been pretty slow to materialize.