Net Neutrality in Canada Isn’t as Safe as You Might Think

The United States’ decision to gut net neutrality protections may have a creeping influence on how you surf the web

(Leah Rosehill)

As the United States’ short-lived protections for net neutrality are being cut down, Canadians can seemingly rest easy knowing that our government is committed to strengthening affordable access to the web.

But how safe is the internet in Canada if our southern neighbors go through with the FCC’s plans to sacrifice the consumer to the corporate gods? The unfortunate reality is that if net neutrality dies in the United States, it’s likely only a matter of time before the same happens in Canada and the world over.

For those who have somehow remained unexposed to the fight for the web, net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should treat all data on the internet the same. This means that, under net neutrality, service providers may not favoritize one service or website over another by granting faster or slower speeds and can not deny their users access to certain content for whatever reason.

Without net neutrality, service providers would have the power to charge fees and throttle bandwidth to sabotage web-based services that compete with their own services. They would be able to censor the flow of whatever information they would rather deny their customers access to. Net neutrality is vital not just to the consumer, but also to the overall health of freedom of speech.

The death of net neutrality in the States will impact the wallets of Canadians even without any change to Canadian law. If American services that are popular in Canada like Netflix and Spotify are forced to pay ransoms to American service providers in exchange for not having their services throttled in their home markets, they will almost certainly pass that expense on to their customers.

This is why, on Nov. 21, it was so devastating for net neutrality advocates the world over when the Federal Communications Commission, under Trump-nominated chairman Ajit Pai, moved to gut protections for net neutrality that were put in place by the Obama administration in 2015.

Fortunately, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission has recently reaffirmed its commitment to straighten consumer protections for net neutrality in Canada. On our side of the fence we know that, at least for the moment, our institutions are on the side of the consumer.

However, this is no reason for net neutrality advocates to become complacent.

While it might not seem like it these days, the United States still wields immense influence over the international community and international laws. The death of net neutrality in the U.S. will embolden telecom companies and other corporate interests to put pressure on governments around the world to kill consumer protections. Canadian telecoms have already invested major resources towards undermining our net neutrality laws. These pushes will only intensify and find new legitimacy if the battle to support their anti-consumer ideology has been won in the United States.

The strategy from the anti-net neutrality camp relies heavily on misinformation, often tying the issue to Reagan-era anti-regulation ideology. In the opinion of anti-net neutrality sources, any rules at all—even those which only apply to internet service providers and do nothing but protect the online freedom of consumers—are somehow an assault on freedom.

While baseless, this is the position that has been taken by President Trump since the early days of his campaign, and therefore has been adopted as gospel to a not-insignificant base of American voters. Canadians are not immune to being affected by the same sort of spin.

While it’s comforting to have the CRTC on the side of net neutrality for the moment, the fallout from the 2016 U.S. election shows us just how fast institutions can be steered in the wrong direction. It was only as recently as 2015 that the FCC was moving to protect American net neutrality, and less than a year of Trump leadership later, it is now poised to gut consumer protections with a machete.

This is why it is more important than ever for Canadians to pay attention, speak up, and use their votes to protect a free and open internet.