Why Net Neutrality Matters

Backed by the FCC, President Donald Trump announced last month plans to roll back Net Neutrality, lifting restrictions on internet providers that limit how and what they can charge consumers. There’s no way around it–this move is incredibly dangerous, and threatens the way we send and receive news and information, interact, do business–basically everything that happens on the internet.

This issue goes far beyond Republican vs Democrat, conservative vs liberal, as even avid supporters of Trump, such as Breitbart, have vocally spoken out against the move.

The repeal of net neutrality in the States would affect us here in Canada, too.

But before we get too far into that, let’s break down what can happen if the regulations in place are removed.

One of the regulations in place is that services must be provided at a flat rate and must include access to the entire internet. If repealed, any service provider in the states could not only charge whatever they wanted, they could also block whatever they wanted from their users and extort it at an additional rate.

For example, say an internet provider that owns Bing only wants their users searching on Bing. They could block access to every other search engine, including Google, Yahoo, AOL, and every other engine. They could also decide to block access to Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and even personal email accounts through self-hosted websites. You would only be able to utilize MSN, Hotmail, and Live accounts for free. They could allow you to still access those sites, but for an additional charge.

Likewise, internet companies could extort their customers use of social media sites by charging an additional package fee for access to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

Now, here’s where it gets dangerous. Let’s say one of these providers is backed by or quietly owned by a prominent member of a government party. It doesn’t matter which one–Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative–because it could have the same results. They only want their customers reading news that supports their standpoint, so they limit internet access to only news sites that support their narrative.

They can also choose to slow down internet speeds and then force consumers to pay more (even when you’re paying for a certain speed, because there’s no regulation).

Net neutrality also includes restrictions for the government, something that would no longer exist if this was rolled back.

Essentially, net neutrality ensures an open and free internet, whereas total freedom to the ISPs means a closed door internet, where, much like cable TV, everything is restricted and comes at an extra and exorbitant cost. According to Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump, the only thing that would be asked of ISP’s would be to ‘voluntarily’ agree to maintain open internet.

But, if the ISPs didn’t adhere to that request, there wouldn’t be any regulations to prevent it.

So how exactly does all of this affect Canada? Although the Liberal government has promised to maintain net neutrality and fight for open internet, if the FCC repeal goes through, they could face added pressure from Canadian ISPs, businesses, and even other political groups to do the same.

Of course, that part is a very big if. The bigger concern with the rollback of Net Neutrality is that this move could also affect Canadian companies that do business with the US via the internet, as well as Canadian consumers who purchase from US sites.

If sites like, Etsy for example, fall under the extra costs, smaller businesses may be unable to afford the cost for access.

And while all of this is a big ‘if’ with the restriction of Net Neutrality, it’s not a stretch. We’ve seen how internet, cable, and telecom companies love to extort their customers even here in Canada.

They’re in the business not to provide access, but rather to make money.

So what exactly can we do about it here? Well, not a whole lot. Although we cannot officially lend our signatures, names, and support in protests and petitions, there is one thing we can do: keep talking about it. The more people are aware, the more we can explain what this means, the more we can help people in the US who may not realize the implications to examine it as well.

The FCC voted on this yesterday and the repeal process is set to begin. The good news about this, is that it still has to go through the government. Nothing will change immediately, and companies like Netflix, as well as outspoken supporters of net neutrality are already vowing to fight this.

In the meantime, the best thing that can be done is to keep this conversation going and keep it in the public eye. For more information, and for a great breakdown, check out this article on Tech Crunch.

net neutrality

A version of this column appeared in the Orangeville Citizen on November 30, 2017.

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