Well finally, the beginnings of the Net Neutrality debate have started in Canada. This particular debate has been ongoing in the States for some months now and the battle is only just starting.
From the Canadian perspective, many would believe that this has no real effect on Canadian Internet surfers. Well in my professional opinion never has a single issue revolving around technology had a more direct impact on each and every Canadian Internet user. But what is Net Neutrality? To sum it up concisely, Net Neutrality is the guiding principal behind a free and open Internet access. As it currently exists, we enjoy equal unfiltered and unmonitored access to information. If the major broadband companies like AT&T, Rogers and Bell Sympatico are able to enact their changes we will lose two major freedoms. The first freedom is the freedom of choice, the second is freedom to maintain a expected level of privacy.
The first freedom is the basis of how all Internet traffic works. You as a surfer can choose the content you wish to view or listen too. It is sent across the Internet without any filtering, priority, or controls. If the broadband providers were able to further regulate their networks they would be allowed to take a public network and make it private. They want to do this because they feel companies like Microsoft, Google, YouTube and Amazon are using their bandwidth and not being charged for it. Meanwhile they wish to build a tiered network that would allow them to regulate transmissions based on the content providers ability to pay. So companies like Google will pay massive amounts of money to ensure their content gets to the users as fast as possible, but smaller companies would be regulated to slower connections if anything at all. The result of this could be the practice of filtering content from competing companies. I, as the consumer, should be allowed to choose which content I view without restrictions or filtering. It is my choice of what I view and not the choice of massive media corporations like Sympatico or Rogers. Imagine a service like Skype being slowed purposely while your ISP offers a competing pay-to-use service. They would be leveraging their control over the network to force the use of one of their products in over a competing service.
The second point I wish to address is the freedom to privacy. While the Internet is mainly anonymous from the aspect of who accesses what content and when, it is far from totally anonymous. In a recent change to Bell Sympatico’s user agreement they have introduced the ability to monitor traffic. The changes, according to this Globe and Mail article, allow Bell Sympatico (Just about everyone in Eastern Canada with a ADSL connection) to monitor or investigate content, use of the connection and to release that information to satisfy any laws, regulations or governmental request. This amounts to a massive intrusion to the privacy of Canadian citizens who use the Sympatico network. Unless clear and reasonable evidence is provided by the accusing party, and they have gone though a judicial review (I.E. applied for a warrant from a judge) no information should be disclosed to anyone regarding my or your surfing habits. What the Sympatico user agreement – which you agree to just by paying for the service – amounts to is; that Sympatico will be free to release your information to Government, or private industry parties to fulfill their requests.
These kinds of moves cause me concern. First off there is no reason for my personal information or surfing habits to be released with out the direct order of a Canadian judge. If a police agency has had a legitimate complaint filed against users of an ISP then they have reason to apply for a warrant to access records as part of an investigation. Other wise there is no need to monitor or hand over records pertaining to anyone’s surfing habits or personal information.
Secondly Sympatico is already making money providing me access. AT&T is making money by providing network access to companies like Google. The idea that they want to charge me, or them, extra for the delivery of the content on a tiered system is the same thing as dual charging for a single service. It is understood that the fee we pay to have an Internet connection includes the ability to use it. I hardly doubt that Google, Microsoft or Amazon.com get free Internet access for the massive amount of traffic they generate. They pay for their access just as we do; they just do it on a corporate level.
Net Neutrality is important because it means that everyone will maintain an equal playing field online. That you, and I, can access the information we wish and not have to worry that our provider is filtering or blocking access. Freedom of information exchange was the basis that the Internet was developed upon. Right now we are at a critical point, will we hand control of this global network over to a handful of corporations or maintain a fair and open playing field for you to express your voice as equally as any other member of the online community or fear of a form of corporate censorship. Let your Member of Parliament know how you feel about this issue and make sure the Internet is kept neutral.