Why a US Net Neutrality Court Case May Affect Canadians Too

Seems like everyone is talking about “net neutrality” again.

Although the concept has been around for about 10 years, not many people really know what it’s about. Until not too long ago, I wasn’t too aware of what it meant either. 

However, recent events in the US have brought the phrase to the forefront of the news. Did you know that last week, the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC ruled in favour of cable and wireless provider Verizon, striking down the rules of net neutrality established by the FCC? Okay, you say—what does that really mean?

First, a primer on what net neutrality means. Essentially, the net neutrality rules were created to require Internet service providers to treat all online traffic equally. Those who oppose the rules would like to put a price premium on certain Internet services like YouTube or Netflix and pass the cost on to the consumer.

To use an analogy, let’s pretend the wall socket you plug your household appliances into represents the Internet. Those opposed to net neutrality, namely the ISPs like Verizon (and here in Canada, Bell), would want to charge a different rate for different appliances. They could charge more to plug in a Sony TV than a Panasonic TV. Another: let’s say the Port Mann bridge just east of Vancouver is controlled by the ISPs. They could decide to allow a special lane for Pizza Hut to make their deliveries, but companies like Dominos would have to use the same lane as everyone else. 

Or here’s one that may unfortunately one day become a reality: Shaw (or Telus or another provider) starts charging an additional fee for access to certain Internet sites. Want access to YouTube? $10 extra per month. Netflix? $15 per month. Here is a recent infographic that paints a hypothetical picture of what the Internet could look like should the big cable companies and their political lobbyists get their way.

Yes, that’s what this most recent court decision could lead to. As clear as this hypothetical picture is to the naked eye, the concept behind it is as awkward and twisted as a Picasso painting.

Is this scenario likely? Not really. At least not in the near future. But I’ve got your attention now, don’t I? 

There is a lot of speculation on the Internet—depending on where you get your information—that this court decision could lead to a monthly rate hike for Netflix. While this is entirely possible, it’s unlikely that the reasoning behind a possible increase to what we pay Netflix each month would be due to net neutrality. The cost of doing business for the popular streaming service, be it more infrastructure investment to keep up with the subscriber base (and all that 4K video streaming) or in the procurement of more first-class content, is a more likely explanation for the bump. 

Still, this whole Verizon-trumping-the-FCC thing can’t be good for Canadians. It sets a scary precedent, and one we should be keeping our eyes on as these developments unfold. 

So to sum up once again, in somewhat legal terms, net neutrality is the de facto standard of non-discriminatory treatment that has governed the traffic of digital information. Or, in very easy-to-remember terms: Those who oppose net neutrality = bad, and net neutrality = good. 

Class dismissed.