There was a big win today for the open, free internet we’ve come to know and love. The United States Senate rejected a law that would have overturned the net neutrality rules established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year. The vote was completely along party lines, with all the Democrats voting to reject, so that should tell you what side of this debate you should be on.
Now, I’m supposed to be talking about internet law in Canada around here, so after the jump I’ll figure out some way to bring this all back home.
So first off, what is net neutrality? Just look at Wikipedia, will you? I have to do everything? Fine, fine. In plain language, net neutrality means that the internet should be neutral! Duh. In all seriousness, it means that neither the ISPs nor the government should control the content on the internet by varying how (and how fast) you can access parts of it. The ISP will tell you that it costs a fortune to be an ISP, so they should be allowed to give “premium” access to big companies’ websites who pay them, or to their own content. So Bell, for example, as an ISP could give you lightning fast access to TSN.ca, while slowing your access to Sportsnet.ca. And Rogers might do the opposite. Obviously (to me anyway), that’s bullshit. And don’t even get me started how that would screw with the little sports sites out there. True net neutrality means that the ISP could never do that, or any other practice that restricts some internet content while favouring another.
So do we have net neutrality in Canada? Well, sort of. The CRTC in 2009 passed a regulatory policy that ostensibly requires net neutrality. Of course, they don’t call it net neutrality anyway, the policy is about “Internet traffic management guidelines”, of which throttling is the most common example. The problem with the rules is that, as usual for the CRTC, they really have no teeth. The CRTC doesn’t investigate the practices themselves, and relies only on public complaints. Here’s how to complain. Then when they get complaints, they really don’t do much with them. Michael Geist wrote just this past weekend about this exact problem.
The CRTC has at least taken a step forward when it called out Rogers a couple of weeks ago for slowing down speeds for online gamers. The CRTC is sending the complaints over to its “Compliance and Enforcement Sector” which unfortunately isn’t really as cool or tough as it sounds. We’ll have to see what, if anything, the CRTC does to Rogers to really get an idea if we have a true open internet in Canada.
The throttling issue is only one part of the open internet. A related issue is the desire for the ISPs to switch to usage-based billing, i.e. a metered internet where you pay more as you use more. Coincidentally, it was just announced yesterday that the CRTC is going to announce its decision about usage-based billing this coming Tuesday (November 15th). Fingers crossed! But it probably won’t matter; here in Quebec both Vidéotron and Bell are jacking up prices for everything anyway. Sigh.
If you care about an open internet forever, make sure to check out openmedia.ca. They do good work. Let’s face it, if you were slowed down trying to access allenmendelsohn.com, the internet would suck.