How the end of net neutrality in the US could affect Canadians

Dec 14 2017, 9:31 pm

As the US abandons net neutrality rules that stopped internet providers from charging extra fees for apps like Netflix, we’re left wondering how this affects Canadians.

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The Obama-era rules had meant internet service providers had to treat all data equally, so no matter how big or small the website, it had access to all internet users, everywhere.

That prohibited Internet providers from blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization — “fast lanes” for sites that pay, and slow lanes for everyone else.

Possible consequences of removing these rules are that internet service providers could also charge users extra fees for access to certain internet-based services.

So how will all this affect Canadians?

To find out, Daily Hive asked Jon Festinger, an adjunct professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law and professor at the Centre for Digital Media.

Streaming services may have to raise subscription rates

He said Canadians could be hit with higher prices for the content they consume, if American content producers like Netflix are asked to pay more to ISPs to remain in/on their “fast lanes.”

“If they have less money to produce content, if they’re extorted by the American ISPs for example, they’re charged a heavy toll, that money has to come from somewhere,” he said.

“So it’s either going to come from consumers through price increases, which could affect us in Canada…Also the quality of content could be affected.”

Canadian content could suffer due to higher overheads

In the case of Canada, Festinger raises the example of the $500 million investment promised by Netflix to create new, original Canadian content here.

“That was a pretty big deal. I can’t imagine under any circumstances Netflix backing off,” he said.

“But if their bottom line is being affected by what American ISPs do then they could start feeling the pinch because of their other commitments including the Canadian commitment.”

Netflix may wish to be governed under Canadian rules

Netflix on a laptop screen (Shutterstock)

Netflix open on a laptop (sitthiphong/Shutterstock)

Other strange consequences, said Festinger, could be that Netflix, which previously said Canada does not have jurisdiction over the company, might change that stance.

“As weird as it may sound, in this crazy world, if Canada is pro net neutrality and Netflix finds itself disadvantaged in the US… it may want to be under the jurisdiction of the CRTC,” he said.

Courts may issue order to protect net neutrality in Canada

Festinger cites a recent case involving Google and Equustek, an industrial networking gear manufacturer, who wanted to stop a rival misusing its trademarks online.

In the Canadian court case, Equustek won an extraterritorial order enforcing Canadian law worldwide, and forcing Google to remove the rival from search results globally.

Festinger said that if it emerges any of the US net neutrality changes are illegal under Canadian law and they affect us in Canada, that ruling may come in handy.

“At least in theory, our courts might – and I really have to underline might – make an order to say we would only allow certain services in under certain conditions,” said Festinger.

“We’re a sovereign nation. We can enforce Canadian law. If Canadian law is net neutrality… in theory, we should have the jurisdiction to enforce it.

Accessing US shows via a VPN may get more expensive

Game of Thrones/TELUS Pik TV

In other legal – or not quite legal – matters, Canadians using virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent geo-restrictions and access American services will be affected.

“It’s questionable whether what they’re doing is legal or not,” said Festinger. “If what they’re doing is kind of tunnelling in to pay US prices, then they have exactly the same concerns in terms of their pocketbook as American consumers should ultimately have. They’re in effect, American consumers.”

Canadian tech startups may face too many barriers

Festinger believes the larger implications for Canadians are not going to be with the bigger companies, but with our own tech sector.

“There’s a very real possibility that it’s going to be harder for content startups to get going, because the US is a big market,” he said.

“They might find themselves having to pay some sort of toll, or they might find themselves being slowed down.

“And that obviously will affect what Canadians see on the internet – less content, less startups, less innovation.”

Jenni SheppardJenni Sheppard

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