Geek Speak: Steve Anderson, Vote for the Internet campaign
Steve Anderson says the future of the Internet probably won’t be the top issue in many voters’ minds on election day. However, the 29-year-old founder and national coordinator of OpenMedia.ca does think the Internet will be a “big factor” for a lot of Canadians participating in the federal election on Monday (May 2).
In early April, OpenMedia launched a campaign called Vote for the Internet. The campaign has urged people to pledge to vote for an open Internet, called on politicians to declare themselves “pro-Internet” candidates, and surveyed political parties on their positions. Around 50,000 people have taken the pledge, and almost 250 candidates—mostly from the Liberal, New Democratic, and Green parties—have committed to an open Internet.
As for the results of its Digital Future Survey, the NDP and Pirate party rated OpenMedia's policy recommendations the highest, followed by the Liberals, Greens, and Bloc Québécois. The Conservatives were the only major party that failed to answer the survey.
The Georgia Straight reached Anderson by phone at his home in Vancouver.
How does a candidate qualify as “pro-Internet”?
The bar’s set fairly low there. They just have to make a commitment to help stop the meter on our Internet and to fight for a competitive, affordable Internet that is transparent. They just basically have to pledge to do that if elected. So, that’s not very specific, but we now have over 190 MPs that, after they’re elected, we can go to them and say, “You said you’d do this. Let’s see some action.” That’s pretty much all they have to do. But it’s also more of a spectrum than an either-or. So, they can be a pro-Internet candidate if they do that, but there’s other things they can do that will make us more inclined to celebrate what they’re doing.
Don Davies [the NDP incumbent in Vancouver Kingsway] went out in his riding—went into a SkyTrain station—and handed out these flyers that talked about the importance of usage-based billing and our petition. He put a link to our petition on his website. He sent a message about Stop the Meter to his constituents’ list. So, it’s sort of a spectrum. There’s people who just sign up and that’s their thing, and then there’s people who tweet about it. Then there’s people like Don Davies who go out into their community and actually raise awareness at a grassroots level.
What are the biggest threats to an open and accessible Internet in Canada right now?
One is new usage fees, so that’s the usage-based billing—just making the Internet more expensive and more out of step. The Internet in other places is getting cheaper and faster, and in Canada it’s becoming more expensive and just kind of stagnating. So, that’s number one.
Number two is the issue of neutrality, so ISPs selectively slowing down services they don’t like or that compete with their services, particularly P2P technologies, which are used for more and more different things these days.
Then the third one would be creating a more controlled version of the Internet through TV or mobile. For example, there’s some phone packages right now where you can get free Facebook use with your data plan, so it doesn’t go against your data usage. That’s problematic because it prioritizes Facebook and punishes the Georgia Straight or anyone else who doesn’t have that special deal. There’s the same sort of thing happening with television. Telus has a special arrangement with Facebook for IPTV. These things all sort of fit together. They’re slowing down certain services on the web that compete with IPTV services, and then they’re making the Internet more expensive. They’re sort of forcing people economically to adopt the IPTV, more controlled version of the Internet.
With the survey, what were the key things you learned about the parties’ positions on the Internet?
I think that, in particular, both the NDP and the Liberals support what’s called functional separation. We’ve been pushing them on this issue for a while, hoping they would come onside. But here they for the first time, I would say, put in writing that they basically support the idea of splitting up some of the divisions of the big telecom companies. If you asked me a year ago what’s the possibility that the Liberal party, for example, will be in favour of splitting up Bell Canada, I would have said, “That’s a pipe dream, but I hope it happens.” Whereas, now that’s what they’re doing. So, getting that in writing was good and something I was hoping for.
Where do you think the Conservative party stands on the Internet?
A big part of the point of this was to give our supporters and Canadians a picture of where the parties stand, so they can make an informed voting decision. With the Conservatives, it was tempting to leave their spot blank and say, “They failed to answer, and fuck them.” Instead, what we did is we pieced together the policies that they have articulated. Tony Clement did say that he’s against functional separation recently. He said it was irresponsible. So, we put that in there.
They’ve said some good things, mostly platitudes—that they’re for competition and choice, they’re against imposing UBB on independent ISPs, which is a good thing. We just put that stuff in there. So, there’s no revelations in there, but you can see where they stand. I would say that there’s no clear plan or vision or stance for them, in terms of fixing the problem with Internet service in this country. They’ve sort of taken a piecemeal approach, and as far as we can tell, that’s the approach they’re going with.
Is there a party whose Internet policies you favour more than the others?
OpenMedia’s nonpartisan, and we don’t want to endorse any particular party. We’re going to stay away from saying if we prefer one or the other, and it might be divided upon us. But the role we want to play is to be kind of an honest broker and put questions to the parties and let voters decide which makes sense.
We provided an easy, graphical way for people to see where they stand, for people who just want to get a quick look. We have bars showing how high they rated our positions, and you can see how many candidates they have. We have it laid out simply for voters, and then for people who want to dig in, we have the full answers that can be fairly detailed and policy-oriented. So, we’re not going to tell people that one party’s better than the other. We’re just going to let them decide.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.