Illustration by Samantha Lucy

Net neutrality vital for equitable internet use in Canada

By Jason Herring, January 16 2018 —

Though we often take it for granted, internet use in Canada comes with a lot more personal freedoms than are allowed elsewhere in the world. In Spain and Portugal, for example, using certain applications can come with a monthly price tag, similar to a cable television channel package, and internet service providers (ISPs) can limit bandwidth depending on who is using the internet or what they’re using it for.

This is because Canada staunchly recognizes net neutrality, the concept that ISPs must treat all websites equally. They can’t charge more for access to certain sites and they can’t block or limit access to pages due to their content or who they’re owned by.

While Canada telecommunication regulations enshrined net neutrality nearly 25 years ago, the concept was only regulated in the United States in 2015 following a decade of fierce, partisan debate. On Dec. 14, 2017 the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 2–3 to repeal those regulations.

Canada’s net neutrality isn’t immediately in threat. The country’s preemptive institution of net neutrality means it’s not debated along party lines, as it is in the U.S. and elsewhere. And our commission that would be in charge of any changes to the policy — the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission — is non-partisan and acts as a judiciary body.

But talk of a net neutrality repeal down south has brought the discussion across our border. Notably, Bell — one of Canada’s three main mobile network operators, along with Rogers and Telus — is among companies proposing that the country maintain a blacklist of websites that allow users to download pirated content and then force ISPs to block access to those sites, according to a Canadaland report.

The problem of piracy is not one that will be solved with the erosion of net neutrality principles. It would set a damaging precedent that could allow telecommunications giants to discriminate web use consequence-free. And don’t think these companies wouldn’t start providing discriminatory internet service to support their own agenda. For example, Telus violated CRTC regulations in 2005 by blocking a website created by its workers’ union, then on strike. Corporations will fuck consumers over at every opportunity they get unless regulations are in place to keep them from doing so.

The other net neutrality red flag is its discussion — of lack thereof — by members of the opposition federal Conservative Party. Maxime Bernier, former party leadership candidate, tweeted in the midst of the U.S. repeal that “[net neutrality] means more government control over telecom,” adding that Canada needs “less of it and more free competition.” Though other Conservative MPs signalled their support for net neutrality, party leader Andrew Scheer’s voice was notably absent from the conversation, sparking questions about party leadership’s stance on the vital issue. The Liberals have been vocal proponents of net neutrality, but it’s still important to keep an eye on how the ruling party deals with emerging issues surrounding internet use following the landmark U.S. decision.

Net neutrality is necessary to ensure that users continue to have the freedom to use the internet without bandwidth, price or content discrimination. The internet should be a public good. Stripping regulations on companies who sell access to it all but guarantees the emergence of a corporate internet monopoly. Canadians must stand again policies that would undermine the foundation of the internet.

Articles published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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