Trump’s touch on the telecommunications industry could mean the end of open Internet regulations south of the border.
U.S. President Donald Trump chose a strong opponent of net neutrality – the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and consumers shouldn’t be charged more or less depending on the content they choose – to lead the Federal Communications Commission.
Trump designated current commissioner Ajit Pai to the top spot on the FCC on Monday, replacing former chairman Tom Wheeler, who stepped down on Friday, inauguration day. Pai is a staunch foe of the net neutrality rules Wheeler’s FCC introduced in 2015 that prevent broadband providers from blocking content, throttling speeds for certain applications or establishing fast lanes for their own content or companies willing to pay extra.
Pai has called the regulations intrusive and an overreach. Although the new regime is expected to roll back net neutrality rules, which were opposed by telecoms such as AT&T and Verizon, Wheeler implored the new FCC to stay the course in a speech this month.
“To take those protections away at the request of a handful of Internet service providers threatens any innovation that requires connectedness and with it the productivity gains, job creation, and international competitiveness required for American economic growth,” Wheeler said.
The potential shake-up comes as Canada’s telecom regulator mulls regulations surrounding an aspect of net neutrality called zero-rating, the practice of exempting certain data such as music streaming from data caps.
Proponents see this as a marketing tactic and consumer perk, but their opponents argue it violates net neutrality and gives providers too much power to favour certain content. They say this hurts smaller content providers without the cash or status to ink deals with providers.
I’m okay with paying more, however don’t start to limit what I can see
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission plans to rule on the matter in the first half of 2017, according to a spokesperson.
Canadian net neutrality proponent Stephane Bourque advocates for the regulations to stay in place, but doesn’t think there will be much immediate impact if they are repealed.
It’s unclear whether regulatory changes would inspire providers to develop plans that go against net neutrality, said Bourque, CEO of Vancouver-based Incognito Software Systems, which works with top U.S. service providers to improve network performance and monitor traffic.
Consumers tend to support net neutrality since it gives them more choice, he said. “In the court of public opinion, this is seen as a bad thing,” he said in a telephone interview.
There’s been an explosion in data usage since subscribers started accessing more video as opposed to basic email and social media. Bourque supports charging more for higher usage, a policy that has long been practiced in Canada as opposed to the U.S. where unlimited plans are more common.
“I’m okay with paying more, however don’t start to limit what I can see,” Bourque said.
There’s a cost to implementing fast lanes or prioritizing content, he added. Companies would need to monitor exactly what a customer did in order to charge them for data when they watch Netflix, but exempt charges if they watch Amazon Prime Video. They’d also need to revamp their billing systems.
He expects the cost will deter companies from pushing forward with fast lanes even if net neutrality is dismantled.