Opinion: Net neutrality for dummies

What the December 14 vote on net neutrality means for Canada

Paul Rodgers

Today the internet as we know it and, love it may change forever. On Thursday, December 14 a vote will be held to determine the future of net neutrality.

Despite 80 per cent of American’s (including three out of four republicans) are opposed to the government’s plan to repeal net neutrality rules for internet service providers (ISPs), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking to dismantle it.

So what is net neutrality? It has certainly been popping up on a more frequent basis lately. I, for one, am not overly technologically savvy, if there was a book called Net Neutrality for Dummies I would be all over it. I like to just turn on my computer and be able to do things.

Which, for the most part, I can. I can use Skype for free to interview sources in other parts of the world. I can use Google as a research tool for my articles. I can go home and watch Netflix, confident it’s not going to suddenly stop working on me.

All of that is due to current net neutrality rules. Net neutrality refers to the current legal framework governing how we get content over the internet, and ensuring that we get it fairly. It prevents ISPs from blocking or hindering the services of their competitors and promoting their own.

For example, Comcast could, if these laws change, slow down Netflix, in favour of their own streaming services. That is unless Netflix, or individual internet users pay extra. For the consumer, what this could mean is having to pay for internet the same way you pay for cable bundles, having to pick and choose services and pay more for what you should already have.

The big question to be asked for Canadians here is of course, just how much will this American ruling impact us here, or for that matter, every other country across the world. One of the most important ways it will impact Canadians is that it will be a substantial hurdle imposed upon new, developing or already established small business owners.

Removing net neutrality deals a blow to small businesses because it allows corporate giants to filter out the smaller choices in favour of their own services. Canadian internet companies such as Hootsuite could potentially be crippled by having to pay fees or have their services drastically slowed down.

And, because so many services we use are based out of the States, if they have to pay more, so too shall we.

Justin Trudeau has said he will work to defend net neutrality. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has said that it will strengthen its commitment to net neutrality. This is what Trudeau said on the matter:

“I am very concerned about the attacks on net neutrality. Net neutrality is something that is essential for small businesses. For consumers it’s essential to keep the freedom associated with the internet alive.

“The idea of throttling certain sites or charging extra for certain services just does not make sense and if we are going to continue to ensure that technology and particularly digital technology and the use of the internet is the lever to create economic growth and opportunities for citizens right across this country we need to continue to defend net neutrality and I will.”

Despite his sentiment it does not appear as though he has been able to do anything about it. Trump appointed Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC and the man is committed to undoing what Obama did to preserve net neutrality.

And why wouldn’t he want to dismantle rules that inhibit corporate giants like Verizon from being able to filter or censor their users’ content? It’s not like he was a lawyer for Verizon for years, a company that has been busted on numerous occasions for violating net neutrality laws in the past. Oh that’s right. He was.

With everything else that has been happening with our neighbours to the south, it’s not surprising that a former Verizon employee is the one in charge of this decision. And although there have been numerous campaigns, including the “Break the Internet” campaign where many websites changed their aesthetic to urge visitors to contact their members of congress about the repeal, it doesn’t look very hopeful right now.

While the outcome of the vote is pretty bleak, it is heartening to know that our Prime Minister and the CRTC are vocally committed to preserving net neutrality in Canada, and although the implications of this vote on Canadians are yet to be determined, we can strive to hold our leaders and organizations to their pledge.

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