A proposal before the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission puts Canadian cyberspace one step closer to complete regulation, an Internet analyst warned Tuesday.
The Stentor Alliance, a consortium of Canada's telephone companies, has asked the CRTC to consider mandatory registration for all of the country's Internet service providers.
"It's the first step to try to register ISPs and then you're starting down that slippery slope of regulating them", Internet consultant and author Jim Carroll said in an interview from his Toronto office.
"Once you regulate them you introduce all the other silliness you've got in Canadian society. You and I will have to put pictures of bacon and Mounties on our Web sites to make sure they're properly Canadian", he said.
At issue is the Internet's ability to provide long distance services. Stentor wants the ISPs that offer distance telephony to be subject to the same rules as other long distance resellers, such as AT&T Canada or Sprint Canada.
Currently, other long distance carriers must pay a portion of their revenue to the telcos. The money helps the telcos subsidize the lower-than-market prices they charge for local phone service.
"Our position is really just saying if you extend that policy, then you have to look at any provider of long distance telephony whether they be a reseller or an Internet service provider", said Stentor spokesman Darrin Shewchuk.
Carroll is concerned that Canada's growing Web presence could be slowed by Stentor's proposal.
"I think the entire Internet community should recognize the potential for this to place a tax on modems. People should start screaming pretty bloody loud to politicians", he said.
Carroll's predictions are a little over the top, said Stentor regulatory manager Don Heale.
"The stand-alone ISPs would simply say, 'Hi, I'm here.' And then they'd go away. That's it. That's all there is", Heale said.
The only way to find out who is offering long distance telephony is to have ISPs register with the CRTC, Heale conceded.
"How would you know what anybody's doing if they don't tell you?" he said. "It's very much like what the resellers already do."
There is "a fairly significant risk that the Internet would be used for voice long distance services", Heale said, although he could not put a number on how many ISPs are offering long distance telephony to their customers.
Heale dismissed Carroll's predictions of a cumbersome and overly oppressive regulatory regime as extreme.
"I don't think he's read our piece. We're supportive of the idea of minimizing any regulatory restraints on ISPs."
But mandatory registration would introduce an unwelcome element into Canadian cyberspace, said the president of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP).
"You shouldn't force every ISP to register. It'll cover a whole bag of people who shouldn't really be covered", Ron Kawchuk said.
Kawchuk agreed with Carroll that registering ISPs could eventually lead to regulating them. "It just makes them an easier target", he said.
CAIP has asked the CRTC for another month to prepare a rebuttal to Stentor's proposal. The CRTC expects to make a decision in early February.
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