Home > Canada, CDNTech, Commentary, Digital Policy, Digital Revolution, net neutrality > Canada’s Pro-Internet Community At A Cross-Road

Canada’s Pro-Internet Community At A Cross-Road

Back over a decade ago, I was having problems with Bell basically double billing my account for Sympatico internet services.  Like many in tech I took to customer forums to complain and was introduced to the Resident Broadband Users Association (RBUA).  I got to know these people pretty well.  They were made up of a lot of tech like minded people, some of which had worked in tech support for various ISPs.  I believe the founder of this organization worked with Rogers at one point, and formed this group to bring concerns of the tech community up directly with Rogers.

I got to learn over a few months what was then the early days of what’s currently being coined as “The Pro-Internet” community.  Basically what this meant back then was “tech friendly”.  One of the biggest achievements for the tech community I was told the RBUA had accomplished, was a successful push back against Rogers when the company was looking to abolish and block personal FTP servers. For the tech community we often bring our work home, so we needed quick access to files when we needed them when we were on and off site.

At the time I met these guys, they didn’t have a working relationship with Bell Canada.  I was invited to become a senior writer for this organization, and would have been in charge in trying to set up a working relationship with Bell.  At the time I couldn’t commit to the amount of time needed to fulfill this role and attend staff meetings, since I was in school full time learning computer sciences.  I kept in contact with the group sporadically over the span of a few years.  When trying to get back in contact with this group due to Rogers throttling in 2007,  I was told the association had folded due to various reasons and was given contact info for the newly formed Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

Traditionally the independent internet providers have often sided with the tech community.  From working in business at one of Ontario’s many independent ISPs in the mid-90s, I’d often worked with business IT professionals selling the idea that our companies were smaller, so we’d be more receptive to the needs of IT with our business clientele, and could adapt to individual needs.

During the Fair Copyright for Canada movement in which I was also very much a part of, the public for the first time got an education around things the tech community had been concerned about regarding things such as “Net Neutrality” and especially techs most hated topic, “copyright” and the effects “copyright” could have on net neutrality.  This was also during the heat of the battle against Rogers throttling when the public woke up on the tech community’s concerns.

In 2010 a new “advocacy” group popped up called “Openmedia” over public anger over the use of bandwidth caps.  This is where things seem to stray with respect to the traditional “pro-internet” community.  Openmedia essentially used concerns over bandwidth caps Canadian consumers had, and turned it into a lobbying issue with respect to the independent internet providers at the CRTC.

I’ve spoken with Steve Anderson several times.  He’s a very nice guy, has genuine concerns, however doesn’t seem to completely grasp the technical side of things, and seems more concerned about the politics of telecom policy than pushing the concerns most have in the traditional “pro-internet” community forward to the CRTC. His primary post secondary study was in film not tech.

There’s no doubt that being seen as “pro-internet” these days is good for the corporate bottom line, however today we’re at a very interesting cross roads.  The identity of the “pro-internet” community seems to be more and more dictated by two entities here.  One would be Micheal Geist (who’s personal ideologies sometimes stray that of the traditional crowd due to his pro-copyright stances), to Openmedia who from my past working relationship with them are more worried about the PR and how that can benefit their corporate donors. 

Don’t get me wrong, Openmedia is doing good work on “occasion”, however their successes have largely been built around a very misleading move regarding usage based billing, which should have not been used to influence its corporate donors market position.  Often times they lead from behind. As a result, the foundation isn’t strong enough to be sustainable for this group to last very long in my opinion if this group continues to stray and damage a lot of the ideology it’s supposed to be supporting.  Look at the issue of usage base billing now.  Are we better off as a result of Openmedia’s UBB campaign, not even in the slightest.

One of the things I’ve learned in over a decade of fighting for pro-internet (or pro-tech) ideology is dictation of the message from corporate influences on tech policy is exactly what they often fight against.  Our army is strong and growing by the day. One thing I’ve learned, is that the traditional pro-internet community are not “zombies”.   Over this past week, I’ve often wondered, how many bricks is it going to take, before the traditional pro-internet community has had enough, and breaks down this wall of corporate influence, not just with Openmedia, but how the term “pro-internet” is now being improperly used to garner support for being unfriendly to consumers, and the tech community on a whole.  I don’t even have to cite any examples here.  I think those in the traditional wing of this community who have been disillusioned by recent events, and following this blog for some time know exactly what I mean.

Coming from the grass roots of the pro-internet community myself, I think those that have strayed away from it don’t realize that every time the words pro-consumer or pro-internet are used out of context, to defend and sell very anti-consumer and unfriendly positions of those who formally supported this community in business in the past, puts yet another brick on the wall.

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