Cynthia Khoo “The Commons opens up the world.”

Based in Toronto, Cynthia Khoo is an internet and technology lawyer working at the intersection of digital rights, copyright and freedom of expression.

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This story was prepared from an interview conducted in advance of the Humans of the Commons listening lounge at the 2018 Creative Commons Summit in Toronto, Canada. To learn more and listen to other interviews in this series visit Loup.Design/Commons

Cynthia’s story

I first got involved with Creative Commons last year when the Creative Commons Global Summit happened in Toronto. I had just moved to Toronto, so it seemed like a great opportunity to see what the organization did firsthand. The summit was an amazing experience; I loved it. It felt unlike other conferences I’d been to up to that point.

After that I went from just being aware of Creative Commons to actively wanting to be a part of it. I got added to the Creative Commons Slack – I hung out for a bit, just to see what was up and keep an eye out for ways to get involved. I was working with Open Media at the time on their copyright reform platform, and because Creative Commons is in that space as well we found opportunities to collaborate together.

So when the opening came up for volunteers to help organize this year’s summit, I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to help out and pay it forward.

One recent success I’m really proud of is a significant victory for net neutrality here in Canada. Net neutrality is under serious threat in the U.S. and around the world right now, and last year’s hearing was similarly critical for Canada. It focused on “zero rating,” which is about whether phone and cable companies should be allowed to discriminate or privilege some content on your mobile phone data plan, like certain music or video services.

One of the challenges we faced from the parties on the opposing side, I thought, was a misrepresentation around how our internet access is structured. Their argument conflated two very different layers: the access component of going online, and the content component. If you think of a layer cake, it was like they were trying to cut through both layers of the cake and serve them to consumers as slices. That would essentially be a form of Internet rationed out to users piece by piece, as opposed to a neutral Internet connection that’s essential for access to information and freedom of expression.

I wanted to make it really clear that wasn’t an accurate characterization of how the system actually works. We had to figure out how to make the Commissioners see that there are reasons we need to keep those layers distinct, going back to basic telecom principles like common carriage and non-discrimination between users in similar situations. That was something I spent a lot of time trying to think through, because they came at that argument from several different angles.

When the decision came out, the Commissioners explicitly cited some of the arguments that we had made and language we had used. Other public interest groups and individuals intervened in the case and made similar arguments — but it was important to me and I had spent so much time on it… I just had this moment of: “Yes! They got it!!”

We ended up winning the case. There’s some debate about how strongly they ruled in our favor, but they established a framework that was along the lines of what we were arguing for.

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