ISP Regulation in Canada

21 Mar ’05

Professor Michael Geist tackles ISP regulation in his weekly Law Bytes column today. It’s a timely piece – broadband ISPs in Canada are at the core of a growing number of issues that are critical to the healthy development of the internet, and as Michael notes, this is not a competitive marketplace – most consumers, if they have broadband at all, can choose from a maximum of two providers. Money quote:

While the principles that underpin ISP policy – robust competition, consumer choice, network neutrality, a strong anti-spam commitment, and appropriate protections of customer data – are no doubt shared by most of the Internet community, the best way to achieve those goals have changed. The Internet has evolved and so too should our policy approach to ISP accountability.

I believe the time has come for a debate in this country over the role, if any, that regulation over consumer ISPs ought to play – with the rapid penetration of broadband, the use of rich media and other bandwidth-intensive applications of the ‘net have exploded, and the importance of broadband to full participation in the development of the ‘net cannot be understated – we are, essentially, on the verge of the creation of another vital public utility. Whether and how it is regulated must be the topic of vigorous public debate.

One last note – the call for increased regulation of ISP’s in Canada comes in part from public frustration over security and privacy on the internet. These same themes were echoed in calls at the recent RSA Conference for increased regulation of the security of software (read Mary Kirwan’s observations on that here), and of course in the recent events concerning security breaches at ChoicePoint and LexisNexis. There can be no question any longer that there is an emerging movement, in both Canada and the U.S., in favour of using further regulation as a tool for dealing with these issues.

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