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Neutral Internet vital to innovation

It is absolutely critical that Canadians get behind open and neutral networks that don’t place restrictions on content, access or speed, said Terry Dalton, Chair of the Atlantic Canada Organization of Research Networks in Nova Scotia.

He spoke at Dalhousie University on Oct. 26 in a speaker series on the future of the digital landscape.
“We were seeing more and more influences on some of the Internet service providers in directing traffic, limiting traffic,” Dalton said. “Large advertisers come in and have an agreement so you would see more of their advertising.”

The panel discussion that evening focused on a recent Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) ruling.

On Oct. 21 the CRTC set new rules for how Canadians can use the Internet, and how the Internet companies can use us.

Internet activities such as peer-to-peer file sharing and streaming video suck up a lot more bandwidth than e-mail or browsing the Internet.

Internet service providers say they need to be allowed to throttle service in some cases, to prevent a small minority of heavy users from clogging up their networks, illegally downloading copyright material and slowing service for other Internet users.

Media companies, who have seen the loss of revenue to illegal downloading, backed up the Internet service providers, like Bell and Rogers, at the CRTC hearings.

In the ruling, the CRTC gave Canada’s telecoms a green light to slow access to the Internet for bandwidth hogs, but laid down specific guidelines for doing so.

In the Wednesday ruling the CRTC created new rules affecting the way Internet service providers usethe information that travels over their networks.

The commission specified standards of reasonable traffic management and banned the use of personal information for anything other than traffic management purposes.

Service providers now have to describe their traffic managing practices, and justify them any time a consumer complains.

“(The CRTC) ruling is going to stimulate further future discussion amongst politicians and amongst some of the open access groups who want to see a broader level of net neutrality,” said Dalton.

“We’re going to see the ISPs hands-off with regards to any traffic flow and were going to see a lot of discussion coming forward.”

Dalton spoke alongside Darren Abramson, an Assistant Professor with the Dalhousie University Department of Philosophy specializing in logic and the philosophy of computer science.

He said relaxing users’ rights over copyrighted materials could create economic activity.

While throttling can put the breaks on illegal downloads of copyright material, Abramson says new revenue streams are available from sharing copyrighted works.

“There is a whole new class of musical interaction, such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, that create brand new revenue streams.”

Media companies have argued for throttling, saying opposition to illegal downloading and greater protection for copyright material is needed to promote future content creation.

But Abramson doesn’t see it that way.

“The interaction has drastically reduced the costs of content creation and distribution,” Abramson said.

“All kinds of creative work is made possible by this.”

Timothy Reese, an independent musician, agrees with Abramson. According to him, the Internet is a vital tool for musicians like himself, without access to big distribution networks.

“It doesn’t really bode well for us to charge for our music. I’d rather people just listen,” says Reese whose music is available online for free.

“Using broadband legislation to prevent very specific problems is like requiring permission to drive from town to town, to stop people from speeding or stealing cars.”

Restrictions on throttling keep Internet service providers from acting as the middleman between content creators and content consumers.

The CRTC’s decision keeps service providers from having control over the pipes, saying who can have access to what and how fast, said Dalton.

“When you give creative minds the open ability to innovate and explore great things will come out of it,” Dalton said.

“If we restrict the flow of information, we’re going to be restricting innovation, our curiosity, our ability to explore in a creative manner.”

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