What a loss of net neutrality could mean for Canada
Potential changes in the U.S. could give internet service providers control over what customers see and allow them to charge more for high quality and select content.
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It could cost Canadians more to binge-watch a series on Netflix or listen to a playlist on Spotify if net neutrality regulations are removed in the United States.
“As someone who loves the entire internet, that’s a problem for me,” said Laura Tribe, executive director at Open Media, an advocacy group for accessible and surveillance-free internet. “You shouldn’t have to pick and choose what you do online because you can’t afford to pay for the full package. That’s really what we’re looking at in the U.S.”
The Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rules for net neutrality — which, simply put, is when the internet is “open the way we know it,” said Tribe — would give American internet providers more control over what customers see and do online, as well as allow them to charge more for high quality and select content.
“The way that on TV we have a sports package and a movie package, you could similarly in the U.S., now have a video package or a gaming package or a social media package, which if you use the internet heavily in certain ways it might seem appealing,” said Tribe. “But in effect, it’s a way for them to charge extra for access to what you already have now, which is the entire internet.”
Those changes in the U.S. could have a ripple effect for Canadians in terms of costs. If American companies like Netflix and Spotify have to pay internet providers more money, it’s possible customers in Canada will have to pay more for those services.
“We don’t know that those will be passed on to everyone around the world, as opposed to just Americans, but I think ultimately if it impacts their bottom line, it impacts our costs,” said Tribe.
The proposed rules could even be approved by Republicans in the U.S. before a planned FCC meeting on Dec. 14, according to a Washington Post article.
Tribe said Canadians have been quick to realize that only two years ago, Americans were celebrating their own net neutrality protection — and its possible demise is a stark reminder of how fast internet rules can change.
There are regulations in place that protect net neutrality under the Telecommunications Act in Canada, which means companies can’t “pick and choose what you see online,” or “give you some content faster than others, or slower than others,” said Tribe.
Canadians don’t have to pay to access certain content or certain parts of the internet. However, the Telecommunications Act, which governs how the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission makes its decisions, is up for review. The CRTC is currently holding consultations for the future of internet rules. And Tribe said there is now underlying pressure for Canadian companies to follow American policy.
“Every time that it comes up at the CRTC, we see these major (internet service providers) and telecom providers really fighting to loosen those protections,” said Tribe.
In the decade since it started, Open Media has acquired 250,000 members in its Canadian community, who are committed to staying informed on internet rules and fighting to protect their rights online.
“Net neutrality is a really good thing,” said Tribe. “Canadians really care about the internet and they care about how it works and they care about how much it costs. They want to make sure they’re able to be online, and safe when they are there.”
Canadians who want net neutrality to be at the “heart of all future communications processes” can go to act.openmedia.org/theopeninternet to submit a letter to the CRTC.
A LOOK OVERSEAS
After concern about the end of American net neutrality spread across social media, a tweet about what “internet packages” are starting to look like in Portugal went viral, with more than 60,000 likes and almost as many retweets to date.
“In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages,” said the tweet, posted on Oct. 26.
Other countries have faced similar attempts at censorship in the past, said Tribe.
“In the case of India, they were trying to fight back against Facebook, which was trying to promote its internet.org platform ... so it would be if you want to use the internet and you use Facebook’s platform, it’s free, and everything else costs money,” she said.
“It restricts the type of information you’re able to see. It restricts the type of content you can see. It creates a really narrow user experience.”
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