Canadian Culture in an Open Internet Age

Culture is a way of life. It is made up of the knowledge, beliefs, understandings, art, customs, laws, and ideas that comprise a particular society. It is a product of the histories and institutions that frame and animate that society, and it is realized in the capabilities and habits of a society’s members. Media play a key role in the production and transmission of culture. In a large, complex, and dispersedly populated country like Canada, media are the central means for developing an understanding of our culture and our place within it. They are key for appreciating the ideas and concerns of other groups and members of our society. They provide both windows on it and doorways to it; means of both producing culture and participating in it.

From this perspective culture is both sublime and ordinary. It is both professionally produced and homemade, created by teenagers, adults, and families on Internet websites and message boards just as readily as it is by television companies and filmmakers in professional studios. Increasingly, the Internet is the primary medium for creating, sharing, and experiencing Canadian culture. It encompasses both traditional media such as television, film, radio, magazines and books, as well as new forms of interactive media where people can share their understandings and concerns and create new ways of seeing and experiencing the world. The Internet fosters creative production, facilitates the sharing of cultural content, and allows Canadians greater opportunities to experience and participate in cultural life.

Internet Services Providers (ISPs) have traditionally sold access to the Internet to all people willing and able to pay for their services, leaving how to use that access up to their customers. Such open usage fosters myriad types of cultural experiments, as people work and play with the technology in ways that expand both their understanding and enjoyment of the fruits of Canadian culture and the world beyond. However, ISPs have begun stepping beyond the confines of simple service provision — they have been intervening in shaping how their services are used through bandwidth caps, usage-based billing, and the throttling of content. Open Internet policies would prevent ISPs from discriminating against certain cultural practices and favouring others — particularly the cultural practices of the media that they own.

In this section, we make the case that the interests of private telecommunications companies do not align with the public interest of Canadians — therefore, strong regulation is needed to ensure that the Internet stays open to the experiments and creativity that make our culture flourish. To better understand the relationship between Canadian culture and the Internet, we address three intersecting areas of culture here: Making Culture, Sharing Culture, and Interacting with Culture. The first section explores cultural production online, the second section addresses the distribution of culture using the Internet, and the last section highlights the exciting new ways Canadians can interact with cultural goods and practices online.

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