Keeping the net open

Net neutrality is something that affects every single user of the Internet. I use it myself on a daily basis for a multitude of reasons. From checking e-mails to doing research for assignments and streaming music and movies, the Internet plays an important role in my ability on each of these tasks.

With the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web this year, regulation of the Internet has — on the whole — remained the same. As outlined by the Federal Communications Commission, the Internet has until this point, “Made it possible for anyone, anywhere to easily launch innovative applications and services, revolutionizing the way people communicate, participate, create and do business.”

What the FCC is trying to say in a nutshell is the Internet can be built and supported by anyone that wishes to do so. This is the basic tenet behind what net neutrality is: the content produced online reflects what people want to access, create and share with people around the world.

The Canadian government has helped support this paradigm as well. Bill C-552, or an Act to amend the Telecommunications Act (Internet Neutrality), was introduced in 2008. It was stated within that, “Network operators shall not engage in network management practices that favor, degrade or prioritize any content, application or service transmitted over a broadband network based on its source, ownership or destination.”

This allowed for the principle of fair access for Canadian users to be held and maintained within a legal framework.From a theoretical standpoint, net neutrality sounds like the best way to regulate the Internet. By allowing those who use the Internet to help create and curate the content, people around the world could still use the service to the fullest degree.

Net neutrality also tries to prevent the idea of premium costs online. By not favouring content from service providers, users should not be charged for using some services over others. Access and the use of video services like YouTube and Hulu should not be obstructed or have a surcharge added for being classified as “premium.” But some have been challenging net neutrality in Canada

Throughout 2014, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission have dealt with various cases in which Canadian users’ access to content has been tested. One of the most recent cases for the CRTC has been trying to gain jurisdiction over how Netflix can be operated in Canada.

What the current battle between Netflix and the CRTC points out is how corporations are pushing back against legislation that attempt to limit their services. In September, Netflix refused to provide Canadian content and subscriber information upon request from the CRTC. They argued releasing such information would have consequences inconsistent with the interests of consumers.

While Netflix does point out it shouldn’t have to conform to jurisdiction from outside of their host nation of the United States, some parties, such as the Writers Guild of Canada, feel that imposing fees on Netflix helps promote Canadian content.

I could argue that trying to mandate the distribution of Canadian content on video services like Netflix is an argument in which the CRTC will lose. I could also join the thousands of Canadian voices that see the CRTC as a dinosaur in the changing media landscape that refuses to adapt to the times. But the real issue goes back to what lies at the core of net neutrality: access.

The CRTC’s job is to ensure that, “Communication laws designed to protect the public interest are respected.” And that is really what lies at the heart of the Net neutrality debate.

The matter of access boils down to the ability of any user to use their preferred online service for doing any number of tasks. Trying to regulate the Internet is what takes the “freedom” out of freedom of information.

Net neutrality might not be easy to initially grasp, but by making an effort to understand it, people can realize how important it truly is.

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