Last week I got a notice from my Rogers, my internet service provider, informing me of changes they’re making to “better serve” my online needs. The big change, of course, is putting a cap on my “usage allowance,” which means they can charge me more for my internet use, depending on how much I download. Bell is also limiting the amount of content Sympatico subscribers can download.
This isn’t just a corporate ploy to get people to pay more for their connections – this is part of a disturbing move by ISPs to change the way the internet works. What we have come to know and depend on as a space for the seemingly-free flow of information, connecting people around the world, is beginning to reflect the stronghold media conglomerates have around other means of communication, including newspapers and broadcasting, which means the kind of content we can access online, just like the kind of content we can access from the mainstream media, will be limited.
(Of course, the internet is not a perfect place: access is limited to those who can afford it, and the most highly-trafficked sites are still those owned by bottom-line driven major corporations. Still, the potential the internet holds for democratizing communication is critical).
This latest move is part of the struggle over neutrality, which has become a big issue for media activists in the United States.
Here in Canada, the Campaign for Democratic Media is leading the charge in trying to stop what they call “the throttling of the Internet and the strangling of our choice.” They argue that internet service providers have the potential to fundamentally change how we are able to use the internet if their efforts at limiting downloads aren’t stopped.
As the Campaign writes in a statement:
Using the… ‘traffic shaping’ principle, the companies can steer subscribers to their own content, or content produced by affiliated companies, and away from that offered by competitors — including the public broadcaster. For example, some Internet users who recently tried to download CBC’s The Next Greatest Prime Minister on Bittorrent were told it would take hours to do so.
Apart from public broadcasters, this could one day have serious implications for alternative and independent media, such as this blog you’re reading.