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Is the Internet an Essential Service in Canada?

November 16, 2012

In Net Neutrality in Canada and what it Means for Libraries Alex Guindon and Danielle Dennie explore the debate surrounding which social functions should be served by the internet.  They consider whether the internet is best treated as a public good promoting universal access for all citizens or whether the internet should be handled by telecommunication companies as a private commodity.

In her article, Canada Must Make Broadband Infrastructure a Priority, Maggie Matear argues that the internet in Canada, like telephone service and public utilities, should be treated as an essential service with the idea of universal access.

When considering universal access and the internet as an essential service, it is helpful to explore the common carrier concept.  In common law tradition, telephone companies, public utilities, and transportation companies share a common duty and an imposed obligation to serve.  This obligation is imposed due to the essential nature of the service provided.  Given the importance of telephone service to the nation, telephone companies in Canada have long been treated as common carriers and imposed with a duty to serve Canadian citizens.  Telephone service has been considered particularly vital to remote and rural areas in Canada.

Many in Canada, including Matear, Birdsall, and Middleton, assert that the internet is an essential service and argue that internet providers in Canada should be treated as common carriers subject to this duty to serve.

In his 2012 article, Telecommunications Carriers and the Duty to Serve, Michael Ryan presents a thorough overview of universal access and common carriers.  Ryan explains that a recent 2010 CRTC proceeding, Proceedings to Review Basic Telecommunications Services and Other Matters, explored whether broadband internet should be subject to an imposed service obligation.

This CRTC proceeding concluded that internet companies were not common carriers and  that internet service did not fall within this imposed duty to serve.

Ultimately, the debate regarding whether the internet is as an essential service is far from over.

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From → Law

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