Yukon, Vote for the Internet

Forget the gun registry.

Forget Afghanistan and Libya (most Canadians already have, after all).

The hot button issue of this election is the internet in Canada. Or, rather, the relative lack thereof.

This is particularly true in the Yukon, where we suffer from the very worst of Canada’s very bad situation.

The internet in Canada is, simply put, too expensive and too crappy when compared to other developed nations.

Canadians are falling behind other nations in our ability to affordably and effectively access information online.

Our access to the internet is controlled by a small group of companies with competing interests such as cable television and traditional telephone services.

Again, this is particularly true in the Yukon.

There is growing concern amongst Canadians about this.

This election is about changing that.

It’s about making the internet more affordable and the means of how it is provided to us more transparent. It’s about removing the threat of big business and ensuring that our connection to the world remains neutral and open.

In this election we need to send a clear message that we want the next government to work quickly and effectively to develop a comprehensive internet strategy that will institute the values of openness, transparency, accessibility, and affordability.

This has already happened in other major nations like Australia, where an entire government department works to ensure citizens’ internet access.

Finland has enshrined internet access as a legal human right, effectively guaranteeing affordable access to all of its citizens.

The United States has a clear digital strategy that works to promote the rights and interests of citizens online.

Canada’s stance to date has been one of knee-jerk reaction to public opinion and corporate lobbying.

This has enabled major corporations to hijack our access to internet, placing Canadians at a disadvantage on the world stage.

Indeed, we are a laughing stock.

Prices in Canada are among the highest in the developed world. They are inflated by a rate of up to 6,000%, according to the Montreal Gazette (Canadian ISPs say they need the money; critics say Internet fees are a cash grab) and pre-eminent internet scholar and lawyer Michael Geist.

Locally, I’ve measured Northwestel’s own rate of pricing inflation to be around 7,600% (Northwestel Charges Heavy Internet Users a 7600% Premium).

These rates are, of course, estimates.

That’s because Northwestel and its ilk hide inside a black box and operate their services like a military black op. These companies refuse to justify the draconian rates they charge or their operational procedures.

For example, ours is one of the very few nations where citizens are subject to data use penalties.

As a result, if we use the internet to the extent that citizens in other nations do, we get hammered with punitive fees.

The debate is open as to whether Canada’s major internet providers established these data use penalties to adjust our unruly behaviour or simply fleece us.

What’s for certain is that they are bunk. They don’t exist in other countries, where companies remain profitable and citizens enjoy better, cheaper services.

The crux of the issue, though, is the conflict of interest that Canada’s major internet providers are founded upon.

These companies also offer services that directly compete with the internet, such as cable television and traditional telephone.

It’s in these companies’ best interests that we not use the internet to its fullest extent. If we do, it will have a net negative impact on their businesses.

Overpricing internet and reducing the quality we receive are effective methods for ensuring that we remain dependent on these companies’ “packages.”

They are preventative measures to ensure we don’t cancel our cable TV and telephone and get those services online.

This can’t go on.

If it does, Canadian businesses and citizens alike will become more disadvantaged in comparison to our counterparts in other developed nations.

Yukoners, in particular, will become the most affected.

It’s important that we elect an MP willing to fight for our right to affordable, accessible, and open internet. We need someone who will work towards a comprehensive national internet strategy that is in the best interest of citizens, not big business.

As of this writing, only the Liberals and Greens have released platforms that explain their parties’ stance on this issue.

But platforms are really just grist for the mill anyway, especially as far as the Yukon is concerned.

It’s really up to us as individual voters to make it clear to local candidates that the internet is of major concern and importance to us.

We need to let candidates know that we’ll send the one to Ottawa who has the best knowledge of our internet disadvantage, and who is most willing to fight to rectify this issue.

Fortunately, this process has been started for us.

Vancouver’s OpenMedia organization has launched a national “Vote for the Internet” campaign. I urge you to monitor it online at openmedia.ca.

On this site, candidates can publicly pledge their support for the internet in Canada. You can find a list of committed candidates online at openmedia.ca/candidates.

I’d suggest you not even consider a candidate whose name isn’t on this list.

If you happen to come face-to-face with a candidate this month, be sure to also ask him about his position on the internet.

Ask him if he agrees with how much Yukoners pay for internet access. Ask him why we are threatened with exorbitant over-use penalties.

Ask him how he feels about one company having complete, unchecked control over our access to the internet.

Ask him about the conflict of interest that is inherent in that company’s business structure.

Ask him about that company’s lack of accountability to citizens.

Then ask him how he’ll improve the situation in the best interests of Yukoners if we send him to Ottawa.

Make sure you understand, are comfortable with, and agree with that candidate’s answers.

Otherwise, consider an alternative.

If we let this election slip by without at least making a clear statement that the internet is a key concern to Yukoners, the current state of affairs will become the established status quo.

Big business will continue to control our access to the internet in their own interests. Prices will keep going up. Quality will decline. Canadians, and Yukoners in particular, will fall behind other global citizens.

We’re already considered the underdog online. We need to tell Ottawa that it’s time to start playing catch-up with a goal of achieving global leadership.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, April 8, 2011.