Right to disconnect: Why cities want to make cutting the internet free

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The mayor has said Internet bills are ‘unaffordable and unjust’ The ‘right to disconnect’ concept is gaining popularity globally. At the end of last month, 400 City Councils…

Right to disconnect: Why cities want to make cutting the internet free

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The mayor has said Internet bills are ‘unaffordable and unjust’

The ‘right to disconnect’ concept is gaining popularity globally.

At the end of last month, 400 City Councils and 16 Ministers across 13 countries voted to create a “right to disconnect”. The move would see them refuse to communicate with companies or other organisations online if their fees are too high.

One in three Canadians now supports this concept, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is now spearheading a push to implement it in the city.

“We simply need to demand that companies operate by the same rules as the rest of us. If you choose to make an online product that is more like a taxi service or a grocery store, you should be required to abide by the same law that is in place for a taxi company,” he said in an interview.

Some of those changes were made in France in 2010, when the industry regulator extended fines for companies that mishandle the personal data of their customers to 30,000 euros ($33,200, 27,000 pounds).

However, complaints have steadily increased from users, leading the Government of Quebec to demand an inquiry.

Why bother?

Mr Watson said Ottawa residents complained to him about internet bills which they likened to a taxi bill.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Paris introduced a “right to disconnect” policy in 2010

From their homes, the “right to disconnect” advocates can use services such as Netflix, Spotify and others, or they can browse content online from the comfort of their kitchens or bathrooms.

On some levels, connecting to work isn’t a particularly productive activity for most individuals.

Making companies abide by the same rules would mean new employees would be required to use the same tools that everybody else does to get their job done.

And it would mean that if you run into problems with a fix for your billing problem online, you would be unable to file a complaint, or simply sit around and wait for another chance.

“Companies and employers have evolved to a point where they are the guardians of customer information,” said Laura Brerey, the national coordinator of Change the Law, a coalition of social and advocacy groups which supports legislation that extends access to legal services to “the entire Canadian population”.

“We should be making it a condition of employment that companies not access someone’s data,” she said.

Breery said the campaign to have Ottawa introduce a right to disconnect could be successful if companies were forced to change how they operate.

“If companies took a few good steps to embrace this concept, it might actually have an impact on people’s lives. I mean, the internet is a very important part of our daily lives. The internet should be at the same level of engagement or service as the telephone or the postal service.”

In response to Ottawa’s proposal, the Canadian companies with the most advanced digital services have so far said they are not up for any changes.

The Winnipeg Financial Services Commission said in a statement that new regulations would make consumers and businesses “fear” new platforms, and discourage companies from creating newer products in the future.

War is best fought online

But for change to come, Ms Brerey said it must involve users and users only, not government action.

“I would not want to see myself as a government mouthpiece. I do think that this can really be done through community engagement and dialogue among community members and online communities.”

She added: “We have to make the people who are taking part in this choice to support it feel like they are being heard, and they are able to do something about it.”

Judith Arnall, a British lawmaker, also supports the “right to disconnect” concept, and said Canada’s growing support for it points to a growing global movement.

“There is a question of whether or not it might become something that eventually becomes mandatory for the government in another country. That remains to be seen.”

But, in the meantime, Ms Arnall said, the “right to disconnect” concept has potential to help find technological solutions to other social problems.

“If I got such a bill and I were banned from calling the wrong number and I was told to go visit a receptionist in my local government offices, I might be better able to do the wrong thing [to somebody] that needs me and that I could find it more easily with a phone.”

Leave a Comment