Have you ever thought about what it would be like if your Internet service provider (ISP) had the right to pull the plug on a site or type of digital content it didn’t want you to access?
It’s probably not the first thing that haunts your mind while you’re trying to fall asleep at night.
But maybe you’ve seen the phrase net neutrality firing up media headlines lately. A quick Wikipedia search for net neutrality defines it as “the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same”.
Today in the United States, net neutrality is having a moment.
Internet in America is currently government-regulated as a utility service, similar to what you’d expect from your gas or electricity provider (thanks, Barack!)
But on December 14th 2017, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) will vote on proposed net neutrality protection rollbacks which, if approved, will undo those regulations.
Quick Note On What The Heck Net Neutrality Is, Exactly
In a net-neutral world, ISPs do not (in theory), discriminate or control the content being accessed by its subscribers on the Internet. You wanna torrent Grey’s Anatomy seasons 1-14? Go for it. How about an extensive, cathartic blog rant about the price of restaurant hamburgers? Be their guest!
The predicted consequences of removing net neutrality regulations range from “a threat to the Internet’s democracy,” to “[competition-based] better services and products for the consumer”.
If you’re wondering why an ISP would want to restrict or slow access to certain types of content, read Klint Finley’s Wired piece “Here’s How The End of Net Neutrality Will Change The Internet” for a thorough yet accessible examination.
Some of the predicted outcomes are terrifying, but not completely unknown already to web users in Canada.
Do you remember the Telus incident of 2005?
Net Neutrality in Canada: Telus Blocked Pro-Union Website During Strike
In 2005, Destiny’s Child announced their break up and YouTube was born. Members of the Telecommunications Workers Union employed at Telus were on strike and were managing a website called Voices for Change to vocalize their position.
Telus reacted to the oppositional web content by blocking its subscribers from accessing the site.
This is not top-secret information. There’s a paragraph dedicated to Telus vs. Telecommunications Workers Union on the net neutrality in Canada Wikipedia entry.
Even as the strike was unfolding, reporters including The Tyee’s Tom Barrett were taking a closer look at Telus’s seemingly aggressive actions. Barrett referenced a report from an international Internet research group which showed Telus also barred its subscribers from an additional 766 websites all hosted on the same Florida-based server as the now-defunct voices-for-change.com.
At the time, Telus justified the block as reactive to the posting of images on the site depicting employees crossing the picket line, and the union’s apparent accusation of Telus workers jamming phone lines.
It was, in the words of then-vice-president of Telus corporate affairs Drew McArthur said, “a company protecting the safety of its employees.”
Telus eventually unblocked the website after an Alberta court granted an interim injunction against posting Telus employee photographs online.
ISP Control Of Content Selection & Delivery: Good or Bad?
With net neutrality on the tip of many North American tongues (including some famous ones), this week and next, it’s worth considering the implications of loosening the definition of how ISP’s function in democratic society.
Those against net neutrality envision a wider and more “innovative” playing field which breaks up the monopoly of ISPs into a broader range of organizations, all hustling to earn our subscriptions with tiered Internet service plans (“paid prioritization”). Imagine the cost savings on your monthly Internet services bill.
Just how cheap does your individual freedom come?