"National Broadband Task Force secretive, tilted against public interest concerns"

Say authors of new communications book
January 18, 2001

OTTAWA--"Calls for more openness and public input into communications policy in Canada are falling on deaf ears," say Marita Moll and Leslie Regan Shade, editors of E-commerce vs. E-commons; Communications in the Public Interest, a book, released today, on communications policy in the new information age.

They are critical of the secrecy surrounding the appointment of members to the newly established National Broadband Task Force whose members were finally announced on the day of the first meeting Jan. 11th. They point out that, out of 35 members, 22 are from the corporate sector. "Where are those representing municipalities, labour, poverty, and other civil society organizations? So many sectors are without a voice, yet there are 22 representatives from the private sector. In its domination by the private sector, this Task Force is a carbon copy of its predecessor, the Information Highway Advisory Council," say Moll and Shade.

They challenge the government to put the public interest back into communications policy by providing real opportunities for community members and public networking advocates to contribute to the discussion. "Given that a lot of public money will be spent on this project before it's finished, a web site and list server as the sole means of public input is just not good enough. This is the illusion of public participation," they say.

Moll and Shade are critical of the government's continuing bias towards private sector interests in an area where the national interest is so clearly at stake. "The kind of visionary thinking that gave us the CBC and a commitment to universal access to basic telephone service just doesn't seem to be there anymore," they say.

"This Task Force should be much more clearly mandated to ensure that basic principles such as universal access and equity of pricing are respected in the new broadband environment," say Moll and Shade. "The obligations and contributions of the private sector towards these principles should also be part of the discussion."

"Past federal communications initiatives, such as the cross-subsidization of rural/urban telephone rates, made Canada a world leader in telecommunications. The ability of Canadians to communicate, both with their government and with each other, was the envy of the world."

Sweden has just announced that it will build a national public communications infrastructure that will connect all communities through fibre-optic technology. "This kind of daring national vision Canadians used to be known for is sadly absent in the current government," say Moll and Shade

E-commerce vs. E-commons contains essays on communications policy from leading communications thinkers and activists. From privacy issues to intellectual property, from universal access to union activism, they challenge the rush to deregulate and disconnect communications from the public interest.