Who will speak for the internet?

(Published in The Chronicle on October 7, 2014 and online here: http://chronicle.durhamcollege.ca/?p=1806 )

internet

The World Wide Web is 25 years old. In that time the Internet has been an equalizer, an open forum placing everyone on the same level. Big companies and smaller independents have all had the same access. This also goes for people. Very powerful, wealthy people, as well as middle and lower class society, are all able to stand on the same soapbox and talk. The Internet gives everyone a fair chance to be heard.

But something could be about to change that, at least in the U.S.

There is a war going on for freedom on the Internet and I’m rooting for the underdogs because if the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in the United States is able to create a new Internet, we could all have to pay for this same freedom.

Net Neutrality or Open Internet is in jeopardy in the U.S. after FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler introduced the idea of a “two-tiered Internet.” This means big companies that have billions of dollars would be able to pay cable and Internet companies a premium fee to give them a faster lane on Internet while start-up companies would get the regular lane.

Facing public backlash, the FCC gave the American public until Sept. 15 to voice their concerns. More than three million comments were filed. There was also an online protest in early September and days later, a rally in New York City.

As a result of the complaints, the regulator will be trying to figure out a new proposition. The FCC is stuck in the middle between the consumers of the Internet.

The United States classifies the Internet as an Information Service. Classifying it as “Information” means the FCC can regulate it how it sees fit.

But Canada’s guidelines and rules for the Internet, its uses and its distribution are very different than the United States.

Canada classifies the Internet like a telecom regulation and that’s why the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) handles it and why it’s in the Telecommunications Act.

Canada has had some issues with Open Internet as well but the proposed rule changes weren’t as extreme. The complaints came from online gamers because their Internet was being slowed down. The CRTC instituted a rule stating that companies couldn’t do that. This also changed another rule so providers needed to be transparent. They now need to show customers where the bandwidth is going and what they are doing with it.

Even if the CRTC decided to even think about a “two-tiered Internet” in Canada, it couldn’t go ahead. The Telecommunications Act in Canada won’t allow it.

“Two-tiered Internet” would go against many of the guidelines such as the Unjust Discrimination guideline that states you can’t discriminate different companies and give any preferences that would leave the other companies at a disadvantage.

This means that if it added a “two-tier” system it would be discriminating against the smaller companies who wouldn’t be able to get the same services.

Even if the companies found out a way of bypassing this guideline they would then be going against the Content of Messages guideline. It states if they were to slow down one company’s Internet access and not another company’s that would change our perception of the two companies and can be perceived as altering our view.

Even though the FCC is American and won’t affect Canada’s Internet directly it will still cause issues. Canadian companies could pay American Internet providers to get to the top tier or be bullied out of the U.S. market. This could also encourage big Canadian companies in favour of the tiered system to push harder for the CRTC to change its rules too.

The fight for Open Internet isn’t over even with all of the complaints and comments. The next couple of months will be a testament to see who wins the fight – the big companies or the small consumers.

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