The Internet, since its inception, has created a relatively level playing field for users to empower individuals in sharing their views with the world, exchanging data, and enhancing modes of communication over the years. It has also paved the way for small start-up companies to conduct transactions over the cloud and to streamline the service industry to the whole new level. It is the internet that has been responsible for massive startups like Facebook to supplant Myspace, Netflix to supplant a painful declining Blockbuster, the birth of exciting new startups such as Uber and Snapchat, and the rise of new competitors in the e-commerce industry like Alibaba. The concept of the ‘free internet’ is referred to Net Neutrality, a term coined by Columbia University Professor Tim Wu.
Net Neutrality, a principle that suggests that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally, may seem logical to the average person. However, this policy has recently sparked numerous debates since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States. Novel regulations have been proposed that, if implemented, would eliminate net neutrality. These new regulations would allow the internet service providers to administer a “fast-lane” for corporations who can afford to pay more, as well as charge for services differently depending on usage.
This issue affects Canadians because, even though the FCC is technically based in the United States, majority of day-to-day web traffic in Canada passes through American servers; therefore, Canadian use is naturally subjected to American regulations. Also, should this two-tiered system be implemented, it is a sure bet that monopolistic Canadian telecom giants like Rogers and Bell will push for some innocuous -sounding ‘regulatory adjustment’ in order to advocate similar policies up North. This would lead to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Bell, discriminating against consumers by charging excessive amounts for access to non-Bell content through their service.
Current Practices Vs Proposed Changes
At the moment, ISPs provide consumers with unlimited access to the internet access. While they can limit your speeds, ISPs primary motive for this is to slow down illegal downloading. All data goes through a single connection and consumers are charged a monthly fee.
Abolishing Net Neutrality would enable ISPs to manage consumers the internet access and charge based on usage. As a hypothetical example, Bell could block services like Google Maps, in favour of their Bell-branded version of the application. Imagine trading a(maybe avoid calling it lagging if you want to make it sound better than the alternative). Netflix accounts for an inferior television streaming service that doesn’t even have the shows you want to binge the watch on a Saturday night!
Abolishing Net Neutrality will allow corporations to pay for priority ‘internet traffic space,’ leaving small startup businesses lagging behind their competitors because they simply cannot afford to beat corporate giants with millions of dollars in reserves. Bar the limitations in the entrepreneurial ambitions of the Canadian public, discrimination and blacking out websites that the ISPs disagree with would be a standard practice. For example, when its workers were striking in 2005, Telus censored all access to a site run by the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) on the grounds that their views posed a threat to Telus’ business endeavours.
Above all the censorships and limitations to access, something Canadians need to worry about even more is that, internet access in Canada, may be surprising to some, is one of the slowest and most expensive in the world. Canada is placed in the middle of the pack in terms of speed fared poorly in pricing, ranking 18th out of 30 in current-generation internet and 18th out of 19 in next-generation internet speeds, which are 35 megabits faster. Despite how neutral or non-neutral the internet might be in the future, some Canadians cannot even afford to access or utilize the Internet to its full potential in the first place!
2015 promises to bring more into this debate, and it is important to remember that the status quo is not of a neutral net, but one dominated by gigantic tech supremacy and dictatorial ISPs. Furthermore, should we want an Internet that exceeds our expectations and truly be the pinnacle of our unbiased visions, we the users will have to come up with a lot more than just a few angry letters, tweets, and online petitions.
UPDATE: The FCC ruled against the motion of introducing a ‘fast lane’ system to the Internet. Net Neutrality stays!
UPDATE #2: As anticipated, in light of the new net neutrality rules in place ISPs are suing the FCC to fight these rules. Last time Verizon sued the FCC, it knocked down the FCCs previous net neutrality protection laws. (source: Bloomberg)
UPDATE #3: As of Friday June 12th, 2015 new Net Neutrality rules come into effect! This means a free and secure net. A statement from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:
“This is a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators! Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open. Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past. The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks.”