Don’t get caught in the net

To ensure access to the internet, the government must take action to ensure neutrality

Devin McDonald, ArtSci ’13
Devin McDonald, ArtSci ’13

Unfortunately, net neutrality seems to garner about as much popularity as a high school LAN party on a Friday night. It’s a topic which lacks the humanistic appeal of more classic liberal causes but in many ways it’s just as pressing to the way our generation will live in the coming years.

If one technological advancement has shaped our lives more than anything else, it would certainly be the Internet.

Whether checking the weather or finding sources for an assigned paper, the anachronistic alternative seems immensely arduous.

No longer do we worry about our grandmas being swindled by door-to-door salesmen, but rather by supposed Nigerian princes.

The advent of the Internet is a unique event in human history. For the first time, we’ve been given the opportunity to grasp at something that offers total equality.

Irrespective of my position in the world, I can log onto the Internet and access an immense breadth of information and entertainment.

Perhaps most valid to human development is the opportunity to transcend traditional boundaries.

The Internet provides, more readily than ever, the ability to connect with people around the world.

At no other time in history have we been able to communicate with someone of a different race, ethnicity or religion so easily.

The forging of a global identity seems ever more possible when we are given the opportunity to find common ground. In the past, our sense of shared identity has been limited to national, regional, religious or ethnic boundaries.

Not to say that the Internet is the key to global peace, but it certainly plays a role in understanding alternative perspectives. Since its inception in the early 1990s, the Internet in Canada, for the most part, has remained neutral.

This status quo is maintained by co-operation from Internet service providers (ISPs). ISPs are not legally obligated to maintain this status, as there’s no codification of net neutrality.

The question which remains most poignant is; what would a non-neutral Internet mean for Canadians?

At worst, many of the aspects I mentioned would be greatly at risk. ISPs would be free to throttle the bandwidth for specific websites.

This would mean they could make access to Youtube much faster than access to Facebook. This type of control seems relatively benign, but it could spell the corporatization of the Internet.

ISPs could potentially implement staggered plans, which would only provide Internet access to specific websites for a lower price and offer increasingly broad access for higher end plans.

Proponents of non-neutrality claim the ‘free market’ approach would lower the cost of entrance into Internet access, thus making it more accessible to lower income groups.

Upon closer inspection, this model is shown to provide very little benefit to the public. First, it assumes the access cost for personal Internet is infinitively high. The price of basic access to Internet is quite affordable, with plans starting as low as $20 per month for high speed internet.

Even if that price is exceedingly high, the availability of alternative access points is enormous, with public access through libraries and free WiFi at every other coffee shop. The very idea of limiting access to the Internet contradicts many of the aspects that make it so impactful.

The Internet is valuable in that it’s a platform by which we can equally access content.

I don’t see the virtue in allowing corporate interests to define the way we access content. The Internet currently provides the opportunity to transcend corporate interests.

Though I’m not frequently inclined to agree with the proponents of free market ideology, I recognize the reasons upon which their arguments rest.

The implication is that the unimpinged free market will act in the aggregate public good. Their argument does not rest on the idea that corporate interests are tantamount to the public interest.

Thus, the onus is on them to prove limited regulation will be in the interest of the majority of people. In this they have failed. Corporate interest ought not to exceed the aggregate of public interest.

Despite several attempts by the NDP to actively legislate net neutrality, there’s currently little political interest in the subject.

The Liberals only support net neutrality in passing, whereas the Conservatives are still on the fence.

It’s time our government took a stand on something which will define the way we’ll use the Internet.

We ought to express to the political establishment the value of net neutrality for our generation.

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