The House

Net neutrality changes in the U.S. could affect Canada

The former head of the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S., Tom Wheeler, has a strong warning for Canada: do what you can to protect the internet.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on net neutrality. FCC officials have said they fully expected court challenges. (Lauren Victoria Burke Associated Press)

The former head of the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. has a strong warning for Canada: do what you can to protect the internet.

Tom Wheeler, head of the FCC under former U.S. president Barack Obama, said the Trump administration's decision to roll back net neutrality regulations could become a cross-border issue.

In 2015, Wheeler approved an order that barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing down consumer access to web content.

This week, his replacement, Republican Ajit Pai, unveiled plans to repeal that decision and said the U.S. regulator will prevent states and cities from adopting similar protections.

"The market in the United States now is a market that is dominated by a handful of gatekeepers that are exacting some kind of tribute. I'm sure that'll be felt around the world," Wheeler told The House.

"I hope that the Canadian government is smarter than the United States government and won't let this kind of closing down an open internet exist."

For some, the term net neutrality might have the accompanying side effect of glazed-over eyes, but Wheeler describes it as "the openness of the internet."

"Will the internet be like your telephone service where anybody can use it and your privacy is protected or will it be like your cable television service where somebody makes the decisions as to what you can see? They start charging you extra prices for things you want to see," he said.

This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood up for the idea telling reporters he's concerned about what is happening in the states. He called net neutrality "essential to keep the freedom associated with the internet alive."

"God bless Justin Trudeau for standing up for net neutrality," said Wheeler, who is also a former venture capitalist. 

Wheeler admits changes to the U.S. market are likely to have a ripple effect on Canadians.

"One of the interesting challenges is that, as the world becomes interconnected, then what happens in major markets ends up affecting the whole world," he said.

The former head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission talks about the current effort to roll back net neutrality regulations. 10:42