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Neutral or not, the Net?

The abandonment of net neutrality in the United States could have repercussions for Canadian businesses and consumers, explains Maxime Johnson.

Neutral or not, the Net?

An Internet where established businesses are more likely to succeed than start-ups, and where service providers dictate what services their customers will use: these are the kinds of situations that may occur in the US after the probable abandonment of the principles of net neutrality.

Here are five questions to see more clearly:

What is net neutrality?

This is a principle to ensure equality between all data on the Internet. When this principle is respected, an Internet service provider cannot ask for more money to access certain sites, nor guarantee faster access to a particular type of content. The supplier is only a transmission belt, with no impact on what customers are consulting.

Why are we talking about it today?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced this week its plan to abandon the rules promoting net neutrality, adopted in 2015 under Barack Obama.

The abandonment of the rules is part of a larger deregulation trend in the United States. “The FCC is trying to make it a partisan file, and Net neutrality as an Obama leg put in place to undermine conservative values, but that’s not the case,” says Laura Tribe, director general organization for the defense of an open Internet OpenMedia. Those who support it are as much on the left as on the right. ”

According to the FCC, whose Commissioner Ajit V. Pai appointed by Donald Trump previously worked for the American operator Verizon, this recasting of the rules should lighten the machinery of government, but also encourage suppliers to invest in their infrastructure and adopt resources. More varied financing.

What are the consequences of an Internet stripped of its neutrality?

Without Internet neutrality, ISPs have much more flexibility in the kind of packages they offer their customers, and in the way they manage the data they transmit on their network.

A telephone or Internet provider could choose to offer certain content for free, or add blocks of data reserved for specific applications. For $ 10 more a month, an operator like Bell or Videotron could for example allow access to Netflix unlimited.


This is also what offers the operator Meo in Portugal, where the principle of neutrality of the Net is not imposed. For 5 Euros per month, a user can have unlimited access to specific video services (YouTube, Netflix, Periscope and Twitch), or four music services (Spotify, TuneIn, Google Play Music and SoundCloud).

The idea does not seem terrible at first sight. But the perverse effects of such a way of doing things are great: by encouraging only a few established players, the providers encourage consumers to use these services, not those of new businesses, which reduces competition and hinders innovation.

An operator could also promote the content created by a subsidiary of its parent company to the detriment of that of others, or even demand money from companies to ensure the speed of access to their services. Here too, only established businesses may have the means to pay for this insurance, which benefits them compared to start-ups.

Several other potential effects could also be imagined, such as a provider that would require money from its customers for specific purposes ($ 5 per month for fast online video games), which would ban technologies like BitTorrent and that would favor some websites, which could be problematic for access to information, for example.

“It’s important to have access to the entire Internet, not just a few parts,” says Laura Tribe.

Note that disaster scenarios are sometimes advanced by advocates of net neutrality, such as the possibility that a provider makes paying for access to some popular sites like Facebook. Such a drift – although theoretically possible – is unlikely: the risk that suppliers lose their customers would be far too great.

Is net neutrality protected in Canada?

In Canada, the protection of net neutrality was strengthened last April with the publication of a regulatory policy by the CRTC limiting price differentiation practices of Internet service providers.

For this reason, the Canadian organization prevented this summer Videotron operator from offering its Music Unlimited service, where certain online music services were accessible in an unlimited way for its subscribers at no charge additional.

A review of the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications laws was announced earlier this year, but both the CRTC and the Trudeau government have reiterated in recent days the importance of net neutrality, which therefore does not appear to be under threat short term.

“You never know what can happen if the law changes in the United States, but it’s still encouraging in Canada,” Laura Tribe notes.

Could the change in US regulations affect Canadians?

Even with Canadian protections, a regulatory change in the United States could affect consumers and businesses north of the border.

“If a video service must pay US service providers for preferential treatment, this expense will be passed on to consumers, who will have to pay more for their subscription,” believes the CEO of OpenMedia.

It may also be more difficult for Canadian companies to offer their products in the United States, since they will not be able to compete on equal terms and obtain the same quality of service. “Suppliers could even squarely prioritize US sites on their networks,” adds Laura Tribe.

The abandonment of net neutrality in the United States could also create a snowball effect in other countries, which would also affect Canadian businesses in these other markets.

It remains to be seen whether popular discontent following the announcement of the FCC will be sufficient to roll back the commission before the adoption of the proposal, scheduled for December 14.


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