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‘Trumping’ Net Neutrality – How do you feel about paying for social media?

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Net Neutrality – Back in 2015 under the Obama administration, ‘Net Neutrality’ was introduced. The FCC (US Federal Communications Commission) approved regulations making sure the internet was at a level playing field, by preventing the major broadband service providers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing down apps or services which compete against their own.

The whole idea was to treat all web traffic equally so that a provider, like Comcast for example, would not be able to charge extra to an online streaming service like Netflix to secure a faster path to its customers – or not be allowed to block or slow down sites like Google and Facebook.

Net Neutrality – Social Media

Fast forward to 2017 under the Trump administration and Net Neutrality has been trumped, literally. On December 14th the FCC voted to tear down the rules regulating companies that connect consumers to the internet, giving the broadband companies the power to potentially reshape online services in the USA.

The decision, initiated by the Trump government and their new FCC chairman, effectively reversed the regulations in place – while even prohibiting states to set their own rules.

It will take a while for the potential changes to go into effect, and many of them will not be immediately felt – giving more time to the political and legal fights which have already begun. There are calls from Democrats in the White House for a bill that would re-establish the rules, and more than a few Democratic state attorney generals who said they would file a suit to stop the changes – among many other public interest groups who will be putting up a fight. Freedom of expression is being trumped by Trump.

How will that effect Canadians? It won’t happen quickly, but eventually it can result in changes to what you watch online and some of the popular apps you use. On the positive side, Canada has strong protections in place for net neutrality and there has always been and still is, political support for those rules.

Still, effects could be felt from across the border if companies like Netflix end up with increased costs for higher speeds – they will simply pass those costs on to users outside the USA. As well, Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, Michael Geist, was cited in a recent Globe and Mail article saying ‘that since Canadian internet traffic often transits through the U.S., there are concerns that Canadian data could get caught by non-neutral policies. Moreover, Canadian internet services hoping to attract US customers may face demands for payments to have their content delivered on the fast track.’

How it might unfold is that internet users in the USA might soon find they are having connection problems with apps or websites like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube – and then suddenly get offers from their internet service providers to sign up for better service and deals with their own apps and websites. That is where it could trickle down the line into Canada.

Freedom of speech is at hand here – and unfortunately in the hands of a Trump. In the meantime, Canadians can click away without any real concerns, until those clicks start slowing down or costing more.

Bonnie Wurst – info@mtltimes.ca

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