From left to right: Rocky Gaudrault, Derek Blackadder, Sass, and Raymi.
On Monday night, the Gladstone Hotel held the first of three cross-Canada net neutrality discussions established by SaveOurNet.ca. Speakers included SaveOurNet co-founder Steve Anderson; Rocky Gaudrault, CEO of TekSavvy; Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation; Derek Blackadder, a national representative with CUPE; Raymi Lauren White, of Raymi the Minx; and Sass, of zucket.com. The panel discussed a variety of internet-related topics, including throttling, public infrastructure, and the oligopolies of Bell and Rogers, but most of the debate focused on the movement’s deepest problem: how to sell the concept of net neutrality to average Canadians.
Digital democracy in action.
The consensus reached was that most Canadians don’t know anything about net neutrality—or if they do, then they don’t think the issue affects them. “People view it as a nerdy thing,” joked Raymi. “The nerds will take care of it; who cares!…Net neutrality needs to be dumbed down and loved up.”
Although the panel stressed the importance of “sexying up” the issue, the audience questions pushed the discussion in a technical direction. “We definitely—myself included—spiralled into this nerd-tastic conversation that would just scare everyone away from this issue,” concluded Mark Surman at the end of the discussion. “As big as the challenge of the duopolies is, if we can’t figure out how to make this a conversation that is about something great and emotional, we are possibly screwed.”
Mark Surman getting riled up.
Several attendees, including Jesse Brown, of TVO’s Search Engine, also questioned the movement’s political alliance with the left. “NOW Magazine, Rabble.ca, the absent Mrs. Chow—is it necessarily a good idea to align net neutrality with the far left in Canadian politics?” asked Brown. “I can see it just as easily being a right-wing free market libertarian issue…why don’t we keep net neutrality neutral and put up a big tent, and everybody who cares about it can get under.”
Ultimately, the controversial conversations gave the event energy and purpose. While the meeting didn’t produce a consensus on how to reach Canadians, that really wasn’t the point. The objective was to open the floor and have a frank discussion about issues, and that’s exactly what happened. “The biggest thing right now is to be able to discuss this in an organized fashion,” concluded Gaudrault. “But even more, in a way that actually provokes people to stand up and say, ‘what the hell!’ We all have to realize that this is really important; it’s going to set the foundation for the next hundred years, and if we don’t do it soon it’s going to affect us.”
If you’re interested in listening to the audio from the event, a podcast is available at Rabble.ca.
All photos by Andrew Louis/Torontoist.