Canadian net neutrality indirectly affected by U.S. appeal, experts say News, Politics

By: Julie Arounlasy

Canadian supporters of net neutrality warn the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) vote to end rules protecting an open internet on Thursday will tip the balance of power towards large commercial interests.

The Barack Obama government introduced net neutrality rules protecting an open internet in 2015.

At a packed meeting of the FCC in Washington, D.C., the watchdog’s commissioners voted three to two to reverse the net neutrality rules that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from charging websites more for delivering certain services.

Chris Lewis, Vice President of Public Knowledge, which advocates for a free and open Internet told the Toronto Star now that these rules have come along and been repealed by the FCC, ISPs can block access to certain services and websites.

Lewis said they can even throttle or slow down services and set up paid prioritization schemes that allow them to prefer some content over others.

He said the net neutrality fight isn’t over and hopes consumers will reach out and call their members of congress.

“Members of congress have oversight over the FCC and could overturn this ruling if they wanted to. One senator and one member of the House of Representatives have said they’ll introduce legislation to overturn this decision,” Lewis said.

The FCC is made up of five presidentially-appointed commissioners, one of whom is the chairman — currently Republican Ajit Pai. Up to three of those commissioners can be members of the same political party, which means the FCC tends to lean either Republican or Democrat depending on the government of the day.

President Donald Trump elevated Pai to chairman of the FCC this year. Pai quickly made it a goal to reverse net neutrality rules passed in 2015.

“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia,” he said in a statement.

“Returning to the legal framework that governed the Internet from President Clinton’s pronouncement in 1996 until 2015 is not going to destroy the Internet.

“It is not going to end the Internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy.”

Contrary to the FCC, Canada’s top media regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), makes decisions based on evidence put forward during public discussions, rather than along party lines.

Under Canada’s Telecommunications Act, ISPs are treated like utilities, and there are rules around how they can act. There are two key rules in particular that were put into place in 1993: service providers can’t engage in paid prioritization, nor can they control the content being transmitted over their networks.

“The vote won’t directly affect our Canadian net neutrality laws in place or [the] Telecommunications Act,” said Cynthia Khoo, a Toronto-based lawyer with a focus on Internet policy and digital rights.

“But what we would want to be on the alert for is the influence that would come from the U.S. since they’re our largest trading partner. It’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be some sort of influence.”

She said the vote wouldn’t affect Canadian net neutrality laws specifically, but “we all have interactions online with the U.S. whether we are small businesses, artists or creators trying to reach audiences in the U.S.”

“Now it’s harder for us because unless you are going to pay Verizon or Comcast so traffic can also be prioritized in reaching your audiences, then you’re automatically going to be marginalized compared to those who can afford to pay them,” Khoo said.

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