Timothy M. Denton

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Smothering the Internet with net neutrality

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The incomparable Ken Engelhart published this provocative - to me at least - opinion piece in the National Post, where its chief editor, Terence  Corcoran, maintains a libertarian and completely pre-Internet idea of competition in telecoms, of giant vertically integrated infrastructures slugging it out for market share.

In my time at the CRTC as Commissioner, there was no better shaper of thinking at a hearing than Ken Engelhart. On the subject of net neutrality, which is just non-discriminatory carriage in a computer era, we disagree. My reply to Ken Engelhart follows.

Gentlemen:

I have the greatest of admiration for Matt Ridley's "The Evolution of Everything", cited by Kenneth Engelhart in his recent posting, "Smothering the Net with Neutrality". I warmly recommend Ridley's book to all,  and I am only slightly less in admiration of Kenneth Engelhart's immaculate capability to lay a smokescreen of doubt on an issue. He ably reviews why the openness of the Internet has brought us innovation not imaginable before its invention. However, it is not just law professors who like it, as Mr. Engelhart implies, but the people who benefit from innovation without permission of carriers, from Mark Zuckerberg to the users of Facebook and of thousands of apps.

Carriers, on the other hand, have been toppled from their positions of total control, because they are no longer the gatekeepers of service innovation. That is what the Internet has wrought. They engage in behaviours that seek to advantage themselves at the expense of rivals, just as they should, and their market behaviour is overseen by regulators who are pledged by law to uphold rules on non-discrimination and non-preference, just as they should.

Much of telecommunications policy is decided by whom you trust more to sustain a neutral platform: carriers or regulators. On this issue, we are odds. In the meantime, I am at one with Kenneth Engelhart in recommending Matt Ridley's "The Evolution of Everything" for a great read.

Sincerely

Timothy Denton
Chairman, Internet Society, Canadian Chapter

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Tuesday, 19 November 2019
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