You Can’t Be Neutral About Net Neutrality

There has been something of a battle raging in the headlines lately over Net Neutrality. I could not guess how many internet users know what Net Neutrality is or have a sense of what it means to them personally but I feel fairly confident in saying not enough people are thinking about it.

Most of the noise about the issue is trumpeted from corporate horns and is very seldom heard in the context of social considerations.

Portuguese internet packages.

Portuguese internet packages.

Net Neutrality is the agreement (or protocol) that everything travels the internet at the same speed, that there is no favoritism and no inspection of data in transit to alter  its speed or processing on its way to its destination.

The internet is the largest, functioning democracy on the planet. It has gone from a limited and sparse communications tool to a robust and necessary facet of people’s lives — lives it has made both richer and broader. We now use the internet for phone, mail, texting, all kinds of banking, weather updates, traffic updates, news, dating, community events and fundraising, political solidarity, family communications and entertainment that includes video and games. We use it for education (free and paid), and for building business and social networks. All this has happened within the framework of Net Neutrality — and it works.

The internet has been a Great Disrupter, offering a perplexity of challenges to traditional capitalist corporations looking to monetize it. Consider that Canadian citizens consistently pay some of the highest access fees for internet access, particularly in the mobile market. And yet, this is not enough for our providers. Corporations by their nature, pursue never-ending, incremental, shareholder payouts at each quarter and have met the internet challenge in a sad and disingenuous way. The plan to increase profit is to sell the notion that the internet needs to be metered and segmented according to the type and size of data travelling on the network. This then becomes the basis for new and expensive packaging premiums. Portugal has recently rolled out metered internet packaging and it is very reminiscent of the cable tv model of packaging.



One of the ways corporations present their case is to suggest that the Internet will wobble and collapse if Net Neutrality is allowed to stand, which is not true. It is implied that the cost of building out the network cannot be recouped unless revenues increase — again, not true. The difficult reality is that people are reaching a saturation point in terms of cost and I believe that corporations are going to have to live with that or step aside.

The other argument cited with great sanctimony is copyright infringement through pirate websites. According to one ISP, for instance, there were 1.88 billion visits to pirate websites in 2016 in Canada. Most ISPs seem to want to embrace this as a moral/legal consideration rather than a lost income scenario. That their sanctimony is coupled with tax avoidance is a discussion for another day.

Unsurprisingly, there has been some very organized resistance to the elimination of Net Neutrality but it does not enjoy the understanding and support of a large proportion of everyday internet users.

I think people have a general resistance based on a number of direct considerations, the cost factor being the most obvious and easily understood. Privacy issues can also escalate people’s worries, but the relationship to Net Neutrality is not as quickly appreciated.

Here, then, are seven reasons why you should care about Net Neutrality.


Net Neutrality – Government

Thanks to Net Neutrality, we have a range of vantage points from which to consider how our government is behaving, performing, delivering. It has opened portals of information that have helped Canadians better understand their place in their democracy. We have an international level view that is more dynamic and detailed than at any time in our past. At the same time, we’ve been given more granular views at national, provincial and municipal/town levels as well. There have been difficult conversations and reconciliations, challenging dialog on many subjects, whistle blower dumps that have been shocking and disappointing and also instructive. We see the good, the bad and the ugly – but in a broader and more integrated context. These are things that many people, for many different reasons, would like to hide or diminish. Net Neutrality does not permit this to happen.

Open Internet is also a place where people build relationships based on common interests and where participation is neither allowed nor precluded based on class, race, income, religion, etc.


Net Neutrality – CRTC

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regulates and supervises broadcasting and communications – including internet – for the public good. After a long period of public consultation, it confirmed support for Net Neutrality. It also regulates and/or monitors shared networks, differential pricing, anti-spam, speed, tv/music streaming, traffic (throttling) and ISPs via the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).

There was great concern that we would lose Net Neutrality due to aggressive lobbying from opposing parties. It was also a time of great solidarity that saw many organizations and citizens rally in favor of net protections. In the end, we won the day.


Net Neutrality – Cost

Navigating the kind of pricing/packaging systems we associate with cable tv is costly and frustrating and anger-inducing but it is also restrictive for people who cannot afford multiple packages. Keep in mind internet pricing packages do not include your subscription fees to movie/tv streaming services, newspaper(s), gaming sites, VOIP, blogs, stores or even banking!

And while Canada has Net Neutrality, other countries do not, and that may translate into higher subscription costs for Canadian customers if the service is accessed outside Canada.


Net Neutrality – Privacy

Canadians, through the decisions of the CRTC and the Privacy Commisioner of Canada, have protections from ISPs that would like to sell your online information. While they know the websites you visit, the apps you use and the purchases you make, they cannot sell or share any information without your explicit permission. This includes information that has been stripped of identifiers, as it can be married up with other lists to create a complete picture.

Again, be aware that other countries may not have Net Neutrality rules and that may put your privacy at risk.


Net Neutraility – Free Speech/Expression

Internet pricing schemes that chill access thereby chill freedom of speech. Currently, people can access all kinds of forums, platforms, apps and websites in many different ways. The internet facilitates free speech in all its many forms: people write, paint, draw, sing, compose, film, protest and enjoy solidarity online. Any interference with Net Neutrality jeopardizes this environment through a combination of degradation of service and prohibitive pricing schemes.


Net Neutrality – Options

There are some interesting things happening in the tech scene and in communities of interest and I will be writing more about them in future articles, but for now, I will just note there are people working on ways to introduce an Internet protocol that would essentially prohibit data manipulation, and even ensure privacy online at all times. There is the potential to leave the TCP/IP protocol behind, there is the potential of using the block chain to ensure privacy and speedy transfer, there is talk about using bitcoin cache as a way to manage payment and privacy online. In some cities people are working on a community-wide Internet that is affordable, fast and secure. Most of this activity has been spurred on by the threat of or loss of privacy and/or the increasing cost of internet access through the ISPs. However, we are not there yet.


Net Neutrality – Lobby to dismantle

While Canada enjoys Net Neutrality at this time, we must all understand there is a powerful and relentless lobby to overcome these protections. It is important to realize that not all countries have the same protections and you should keep that in mind when you are surfing the intertubes. Even though your Big Brother is not watching, somebody’s Big Brother is likely watching and taking notes. There is real concern in the United States that they will ditch Net Neutrality, a decision that seems imminent although contentious. This should be a lesson for Canada that we need to keep the personal implications of losing Net Neutrality close, and continue to oppose the lobby that would end it.

The suggestion is that the internet will wobble and collapse if this is not done, which is not true. The loss of Net Neutrality is the commodification of the internet itself. It will have a chilling effect on people and societies introducing a class structure into internet participation that should make your blood run cold.

Featured image by EFF-Graphics, own work, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.




Katie Campbell


Katie Campbell is an artist and salty internet denizen who has ideas. She is a rage tweeter living in and that is all you will ever need to know…








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