You can call anyone you want on your telephone or mobile, even if they are another telephone company. You can mail a letter or a package to anyone you want–even a criminal. The telephone company must connect you; and the post office must deliver your letter. It has been a standard of communication since the first postal stamp. You don’t pay more to talk to some people than others and your connection is not slower because you want to talk to someone your telco doesn’t like.
Net Neutrality applies this concept to the Internet. You can view or visit whatever site you want with your Internet connection–even if it is a competitor of the company who supplies your internet.
Why is this at risk? Let’s say your Internet connection is through Bell or Shaw. These are large companies. They are also companies that have their own television and media empires. Do they really want you using their internet services so you can watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Disney+? That’s money flowing out of their empire and into their competitors. They would really prefer you to watch Crave (for Bell subscribers), or Shomi (Rogers which bought Shaw). If they can legally block you from accessing their competitors, it means more profit for them. In most, cases, they won’t block you from accessing competitors; they will just charge you more or make your connection slower.
Net Neutrality laws protect us from this sort of coercion in how we use the internet and how much we pay.
Federal Appeal Court Undermines Net Neutrality
On May 26, 2021, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal ruled in such a case. The Court sided with 3 television distributors (Bell, Quebecor, and Videotron) aligned with major telcos (Rogers and Bell) to allow ISPs to block access by all their subscribers to online streaming services doing business as “GoldTV.” The ruling centered around an interpretation of the Copyright and Telecommunication Acts. For a more detailed analysis of this ruling, visit this story on CIRA. While this is an initial ruling, more clarity around the rules of when telcos can violate net neutrality will be forthcoming.
Implications for Internet Access
So, is our Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions at risk? Probably not yet. Both of these streaming services are so large and entrenched that should Rogers or Bell block them, users will likely switch to a different ISP–provided a competitor exists in their area. Smaller streaming companies are at risk of being blocked. And if Bell and Rogers (which will now own Shaw), and Telus all gang up, the bigger streaming services can be threatened.