November 26, 2017

Net neutrality states that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all data on the internet as equal, and not discriminate against user, content, website, or platform. Examples of ISPs include Rogers, Bell, Telus, and Verizon among many others. For any one of these ISPs to discriminate is to do things such as intentionally lowering load speeds of one site because they pay a fee, or charging users to access certain sites and not others.

On Tuesday, FCC chairman and former Verizon counsel member Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump, said that the agency will vote on December 14th to revoke all net neutrality rules in the United States. There has been a great deal of backlash by the online community in the wake of this decision with popular YouTubers voicing their opinions, net neutrality threads making front-page Reddit, and anti-net neutrality websites blowing up with hits. If the ruling does go through against net neutrality in the US, then ISPs will be free to favour their own sites, apps, and services over others.

Unfortunately, Canadians will inevitably be affected by this decision. Laura Tribe, executive director of advocacy group Open Media, states that the Internet doesn’t exist in a bubble, and that a lot of Canada’s content gets routed through the US.

Recently, San Francisco software engineer Jeff Kao built a system that analyzed millions of comments submitted to the FCC on net neutrality. Kao worked for the FCC as a summer intern in 2010. His findings say that about 1.3 million of the 22 million comments could have been fake, sent under the name of stolen identities.

The fake comments were found to have similar words, such as “Washington bureaucrats,” “unprecedented regulatory power” and “Obama Administration imposed.” Kao says that each sentence looks like it was generated by a computer program, “like Mad Lib comments.” In order to change the vocabulary, synonyms were swapped out to generate unique-sounding phrases. The idea of using fake comments to skew data is not new, however there are precautions that can be made that the FCC has not bothered to implement.

Add an FCC chairman who worked for Verizon in the past along with computer generated fake comments, and you get public speculation on conflict of interest and suspicious behavior within the FCC. For us in Canada, I’m afraid the only thing we can do is to wait and see what our American neighbors’ next move is.