Is Canada’s Net Neutrality in Danger?

Late last year, regulations protecting net neutrality in the U.S. were eliminated, causing a controversy to erupted in that country over the matter. Many large tech companies such as Google and Facebook joined a segment of the population in voicing their opposition to the policy’s repeal. The scale of the controversy is prompting many Canadians to similarly examine the policies within our borders.

What is net neutrality? Put simply, it is the principle that all content on the web should be treated equally by internet service providers (ISPs). This means that consumers can access content on the web without experiencing slower speeds on certain sites, having content blocked or even paying more to visit certain platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube. In this way, content is “neutral” and not subject to partiality by ISPs. It adheres to the original notion of the Internet as a democratic and open digital space.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is responsible for ensuring that consumers have access to fair broadcast and telecommunication services in this country. The CRTC has so far maintained the principles of net neutrality in Canada through its various policies and regulation changes. While it (and therefore Canada) does not have a net neutrality policy per say, its various policies, when taken together, promote a fair and open Internet.

In Canada, the issue of net neutrality is not as politically partisan as it is in the U.S. The CRTC is an administrative tribunal of the government, and therefore conducts its mandate with a certain level of independence. This is in contrasts with its American counterpart: the Federal Communications Commission’s five commissioners are appointed by the President, which can lead to ideological decisions that favour party lines.

Canada’s Liberal Government has proposed a review and modernization of key policies relating to Internet regulations as part of the 2017 Budget. In theory, this could very well lead to changes in how our Internet services are provided. If changes are to be made, they will likely be in order to increase innovation and our global competitiveness. This would please telecommunication monopolies like Bell or Rogers since they have a vested interest in curtailing net neutrality principles. For them, these principles often limit profits and business opportunities. It’s understandable that they’d like to have an advantage when competing with American content platforms, such as Netflix, that currently dominate in Canada.

Whether or not Canada decides to follow in its southern neighbour’s footsteps remains to be seen. It is safe to assume, however, that Canadian policy makers — and especially the CRTC — will be monitoring the situation in the U.S.. We all wait to see the outcomes this change will have on Internet democracy, and how far north the consequences will bleed.