This week a U.S. court decided against the FCC’s net neutrality rules raising big concerns about the future of the Internet.
Basically, the net neutrality rules prevent telecom carriers and ISP’s from discriminating in favour or against different kinds of traffic or internet content. For example, an ISP could throttle or slow down or “throttle” content owned by competitors while delivering its own content quickly.
A hypothetical Canadian example would be if Bell (which owns CTV) delivered on-line CTV news programming at regular speed but throttled on-line CBC news programming. Another way of discriminating would be to sell different speed and priority delivery to content providers. From there it is a short step to charging fees for content delivery or having content categories counting differently towards download caps. Then the Internet starts to look like cable packages. See, for example,
For most of telecom history, a fundamental principle of regulation has been that a common carrier is not permitted to tamper with the content sent over its facilities. The technical advances that have made the Internet possible, however, combined with vertical integration of carriers and content providers, have made it more challenging to maintain this principle.
The net neutrality rules were made to maintain the Internet as a place where everyone’s content was treated equitably from the perspective of delivery and priority. Canada has similar regulations, in our case developed and enforced by the CRTC.
Notably, the U.S. court did not rule that the net neutrality rules themselves were wrong or illegal. The court found that the FCC had previously classified Internet service in a way that prevented them from subsequently imposing the net neutrality rules. This leaves the door open to re-establish net neutrality in the U.S. in a different way, possibly even by legislation instead of FCC regulation. There will be another long and contentious set of proceedings in the U.S. before the dust settles on this issue.