Sometimes, technical and abstract policy discussions taking place behind the closed doors of Committee rooms and legislatures can have definite impacts on you, your family and your business. The Net Neutrality debate taking place in the United States has the potential to greatly impact households and businesses in both Canada and the United States. With the FCC deciding today to approve changes that fundamentally change how content is delivered via the Internet in the United States, it is worth exploring the potential impact on you.
Let’s begin by summarizing what Net Neutrality is. Here is a eay-to-understand short video that explains things:
But if you don’t have time to watch the video, Net Neutrality dictates that all content is treated equally, with the same speed and delivery. No Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can dictate how quickly certain content can get to users – the Internet is “neutral” in that regard.
However, the FCC formerly proposed rules that would allow ISPs to create a “fast lane” where certain content providers (such as Netflix) could pay to ensure their content is delivered faster than normal. The rules now go out for public comment.
While the FCC and ISPs adamantly claim that speeding up some content does not mean slowing down everyone else, most critics of these new rules claim that is exactly what will happen: those who can afford to pay for the fast lane will do so and everyone else will be stuck in the slow lane. This could especially impact smaller businesses who are trying to deliver content to users, but can’t afford to pay for the faster delivery.
Here in Canada, the regulatory environment is different and these kinds of rules would face a much steeper climb. Here is a solid FAQ on where Canada stands.
As Professor Michael Geist puts it: “…the combination of Canadian law and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission guidelines ensures that paid prioritization would face a difficult regulatory road here. The Telecommunications Act states that no Canadian carrier can “unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”
But there are some who feel that the US Net Neutrality discussion will embolden Canadian ISPs to challenge the current rules and see if they can create a similar environment. According to tech journalist Peter Nowak: “Sure, we have net neutrality rules here in Canada but if you don’t think our big ISPs are going to be emboldened now to circumvent them or try to re-open the conversation, well then you don’t know them very well.”
For better or for worse, the Internet was built on a principle that all content is treated the same – much like cars are treated equally on most roads. Ending Net Neutrality would mean that some content would have an HOV lane, leaving all other users behind. This may cause shrugs until you start noticing your standard Internet plan starts to include a whole lot of buffering.
With the North American economy and its citizens (especially in Canada) so reliant on the Internet for economic growth and daily usage, this is a regulatory change that could fundamentally alter almost every aspect of your life on the Internet at work and at home.
With that in mind, I encourage you to watch the debate in the U.S. closely. You may feel the impact sooner than you think.