In my January 2009 column I encouraged readers to make opening the media in Canada their 2010 resolution. I asserted that 2010 would be a pivotal year for communities working to open communication in Canada and beyond. And so here we are at the end of the year, and it appears that indeed there is a growing community focused on openness, with the open Internet at its core.
On Oct. 21, the brisk morning air met an assemblage of the media innovation vanguard as its members made their way into the CBC/Radio-Canada's Annual Public Meeting (APM) in Vancouver. The plan was unspoken, but the wry smiles exchanged amongst us were more than enough to acknowledge our purpose. After all, while insidious, our goal was quite simple; infiltrate the CBC and make it more community based, participatory, and awesome.
When Vancouverites gathered at the W2 Media Arts Centre for the second Fresh Media Remixology social, myself and the other organizers expected that conversations would be focused on crowdsourced media making. What we didn't anticipate was that attendees would have a hunger to talk about the implications of what this new form of media is making in other spheres of society.
We shouldn't have been surprised. After all, several of us conceptualized the Remixology series as something that would forward the idea of remixing our roles and society at large (society as an open platform). But it was a surprise nonetheless.
Which side are you on?
It makes sense that many people believe that cable and Internet are two separate services, brought to us through distinct wires. And why wouldn't we think this, after all, these services are also in competition for our business. The reality is that television services actually go through the same wires as Internet services. Why is this important? Because it raises serious questions about both the practice of slowing access (throttling) to Internet services and the new imposition of broadband download caps by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Are telecom companies discriminating against the open Internet in favour of their own gatekeepered digital TV services?
I recently found my way into a media and technology industry conference where I "accidentally" bumped into the chair of the CRTC, Konrad von Finckenstein, who was surprisingly charming. Our conversation couldn't have been more different from the experiences I've had at CRTC hearings, where commissioners bear down on you with condescending glares, like feudal lords against the backdrop of a row of flags, the CRTC logo hanging overhead in place of a medieval coat of arms.
Last month, in both the speech from the Throne and release of the budget, the government had a perfect opportunity to address Canada's deficit in Internet openness or "Net Neutrality." It should have seized this opportunity to present an openness agenda. If the Conservatives are committed to lifting foreign ownership rules for the telecommunication industry, as mentioned in their speech, why aren't they first ensuring that Canadians enjoy open access to all the Internet has to offer from our current providers? Seems like they are putting the cart before the horse, or rather the carriers before the users.
There is something uniquely powerful about everyday people having access to the Internet from tiny devices in their pocket. That ubiquitous access to each other creates possibilities that are worth fighting for and saving. The mobile and wireless accessed Internet, combined with emerging open web and open data applications, has the potential to usher in a new era of connectedness, and with it dramatic changes to social practices and institutions. If we get digital public policy right, Canada could become a leader in mobile communications, leading to empowerment, job creation and new forms of entrepreneurialism, expression and social change.
The other day I decided to visit the site of "Occupy Vancouver". What I found was a network of service tents scattered among open spaces, filled with people engaging in what seemed like unending conversations about politics, democracy, and the future. An ethos of sharing and collaborating pervaded the space, and people seemed to revel in each other's company.
Canada has an internet "openness and access deficit." That was the starting point for OpenMedia.ca's Casting an Open Net report published earlier this year. The report noted three disturbing practices employed by several of Canada's dominant Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
1. Many Canadian ISPs (Bell, Rogers, Shaw) selectively limit access to certain online services in a practice known as "throttling," or slowing down of Internet traffic. This renders certain services almost unusable, as expressed in the recent complaint against Rogers, submitted to the CRTC, regarding the ISP's throttling of World of Warcraft, a popular online game.