CRTC chairman Ian Scott says the telecom regulator remains committed to net neutrality, responding to claims that he wants to water down protections around the free flow of information online.
The federal government is conducting a sweeping review of broadcast and telecom legislation and Mr. Scott came under fire in the fall for saying that any new laws should continue to allow for “flexibility” in the application of net neutrality.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers should treat all traffic equally and not block or prioritize content. Mr. Scott said in a November speech that there could be instances involving public safety, remote medical procedures or self-driving cars “where a certain flexibility will be required.”
His remarks spurred a backlash from consumer group OpenMedia, which has collected almost 15,000 signatures for an online petition to “Save Net Neutrality in Canada.” The group argues that the CRTC, along with telecom industry lobbyists, is pushing for looser regulations following the repeal of net neutrality rules in the United States.
Mr. Scott said he was “really surprised” to hear those arguments and that he had intended to make the point that existing rules should be enshrined but also warn: “Don’t be overly prescriptive because you might actually limit our ability to deal with net neutrality.”
“Let’s be really, really clear: The CRTC is the one that has created the current net neutrality regulatory framework in Canada and I would submit that it is one of the best in the world," he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
"We’ve been dogged in our protection and support of net neutrality and nothing has changed,” he said. “We have not backed off and we are not walking away. Our decisions speak for themselves, and there has been no change in the commission’s position.”
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted in 2017 to repeal rules that enshrined net neutrality; the repeal took effect in June. In Canada, the CRTC has upheld the principle through a series of decisions that have interpreted provisions in existing law and the federal government has pledged its own support for net neutrality.
Last week, the CRTC published its written comments to an expert panel that is reviewing Canada’s communications law framework. On the subject of net neutrality, the commission said the current law provides “the CRTC with the required authority to continue to uphold the principle of net neutrality for all telecommunication services.” The submission did not mention a need for “flexibility.”
Before joining the CRTC in 2017, Mr. Scott was most recently a long-time lobbyist for satellite provider Telesat Canada and at one time worked in government relations for Canada’s third-largest telecom, Telus Corp., and critics often raise his ties to industry.
“I don’t have any baggage, preference or a soft spot for carriers,” Mr. Scott said Tuesday, adding that the commission makes decisions based on the record before it and that with the current number of commissioners, he is one of just eight votes.