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Is open access to the Internet in Canada at risk, with the battle for net neutrality?

Last Updated Nov 26, 2017 at 12:57 pm PDT

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SFU expert says fight for net neutrality is a good reminder that Internet freedom shouldn't be taken for granted

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If you visit certain corners of the Internet these days, you’ll find one topic looms above all others: the battle for net neutrality.

“Network neutrality is the free and open access to information on the Internet, without any intermediaries controlling or swaddling or shutting down that access,” explains SFU School of Communications director Peter Chow-White.

Right now, both the US and Canada have laws that prevent your Internet service provider from discriminating when it comes to Internet access. It doesn’t matter what device you use or what site you visit; all data is treated the same.

But now, the current US administration is trying to do away with those rules.

Ending net neutratity would basically give big telecoms the ability to make the Internet slower whenever they wanted to. They could use that to charge a premium to access certain websites or, in the worst case scenario, block access entirely.

“The Federal Communications Commission in the United States deals with network neutrality in the US context and the CRTC in Canada deals with the same sort of issue — access to Internet, et cetera, in the Canadian context,” says Chow-White.

Although there are American websites that can be accessed in Canada, Chow-White says that doesn’t necessarily mean decisions south of the border would affect us. “What happens is the ISP — the Internet Service Providers — control access to the actual websites themselves. So, our access to those websites is independent of the access to the websites from American telecommunications companies.”

Chow-White says the fight for net neutrality is a good reminder that Internet freedom isn’t a given. “We’re always in danger of losing freedom of speech. If it’s not something that we keep an eye on and we make sure that our governments are working in our interests, then it’s going to be a problem.”

“It’s in corporate interest to control the Internet. But they didn’t build the Internet. The Internet is a public good in Canada. Having access to it is no different than having access to health care or good roads or anything like that,” he adds.

Moves by the Trump administration to end net neutrality have been met with a huge public backlash, which Chow-White says is encouraging.