EDRi @ European Business Summit 2014: Digital Citizenship in Brussels – the case of Net Neutrality

Participation of Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the EC, at the seminar "Women on top", organised in Amsterdam (EC Audiovisual Library)

Participation of Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the EC, at the seminar “Women on top”, organised in Amsterdam (EC Audiovisual Library)

Written by Joe McNamee, Executive Director of European Digital Rights (EDRi)

Net neutrality is a digital rights issue, par excellence. The internet has created huge opportunities for the exercise of freedom of communication, for freedom of assembly and for democracy. These opportunities have the same roots as the huge economic success of the internet: openness. The internet allows anyone to connect to anyone without discrimination. Ideas – political, social or business – become global phenomena at a speed that would be unthinkable without this openness.

This openness has been preserved in a telecommunications market that exists because of regulation. Starting from the old national telecoms monopolies 25 years ago, the EU prised the markets open with a series of major liberalisation packages, supplemented with targeted interventions (such as on roaming and local loop unbundling) whenever it became clear (or, to be more precise, about two years after it became clear) that the natural anti-competitive tendency of network industries started kicking in.

In this context, it is somewhat funny, although you do have to admire their cheek, to listen to representatives of former monopolies furrow their collective brows and talk in hushed tones about the “dangers of over-regulation” and the “risks to investment” in infrastructure if net neutrality is protected by law. These protestations are even more amusing when we consider that the telecoms industry lobbied against pretty much every pro-competitive measure, ostensibly due to fears about network investment – fears that subsequently proved unfounded. This is an industry that is as successful as it is because political leaders largely ignored this nonsense and pushed competition into a market that gravitates towards anti-competitive behaviour.

As an alternative to this “over-regulation” that they claim to fear, the former monopolies propose a complete re-invention of how traffic flows over the internet. They have suggested a “sending party pays” model – where they can charge any online service for “sending” traffic to their customers – even though, it is quite obvious that their customers actively choose (and pay to choose) to download content rather than it being passively sent to them. In other words, they suggest creating a new monopoly, where access to their customers becomes the product. Instead of an open internet, we would have a closed, unpredictable “internet”. Individuals would pay to connect to the internet and “the internet” would pay to connect to them!

The telecoms operators explain that competition would act as a safeguard, because customers can change from one operator to another if they are not getting access to the right services. And, if you have never tried to change from one access provider to another, you might be inclined to believe this. However, what about if you are trying to get investment for an innovative new EU-wide online service in this new market? You have to explain to the bank that, at any given moment, you could lose access to half of the market to any given country, unless you pay the dominant telecoms operator whatever ransom they decide to charge to permit access to its customer base. The damage to innovation would be disastrous.

Ultimately, less innovation will lead to less compelling online content and services, leading to less demand for high-quality services, to the detriment of the entire online economy, and to the detriment of the telecoms companies. However, the destruction of net neutrality would come at an even greater cost – namely free speech. The internet has flourished because the EU, following the example of the USA, has established provisions to make sure that, within strict limits, internet companies cannot be held iable for illegal content to which they unknowingly provide access to. In EU jargon, they cannot be held liable if they are acting as a “mere conduit” to the content in question.

If the telecoms providers are deciding what their customers can gain access to – particularly if using surveillance methods such as “deep packet inspection” – they will no longer be able to claim that they are “mere conduits”. This will inevitably lead to policy-makers demanding that they should be more liable for what is accessed by their customers. It will also lead to more court injunctions that will seek to use the expanded technical capacities of telecoms companies to identify and block traffic on their networks. Already this year, we have seen the European Court of Justice rule that crude, non-specific injunctions can be imposed on telecoms companies to “take reasonable measures” (“reasonable” will change in meaning as technical capacities develop) to prevent access to specific content or websites.

So, instead of “over-regulation”, the telecoms companies campaign in favour of a restructuring of the internet. They campaign for a restructuring that would destroy the vibrant nature of online service provision, to the detriment of citizens and business, including the telecoms companies. They campaign for a restructuring in the knowledge that this will come at the cost of a significant increase in legal liability, leading to an increase in surveillance, blocking and filtering. Still, that’s better than over- regulation, apparently.

EDRi believes that the openness of the internet is what has generated the amazing tools that citizens now have at their fingertips to communicate, to campaign and to organise. We believe that the environment that generated this innovation must be maintained. We believe that the legal protections of the businesses that facilitate the exercise of our online freedoms must be preserved.

European Digital Rights (EDRi) is an association of 36 digital rights organisations from 21 countries. We campaign to defend citizens’ rights in the online environment.

Joe McNamee is Executive Director of European Digital Rights, where he has worked since 2009. He holds Master’s Degrees in European Politics (Wales) and International Law (Kent). His first job in the internet sector was as a senior technical support adviser for an internet access provider in 1995. Prior to joining EDRi, he worked in a telecoms consultancy where he ran three independent research projects for the European Commission – on local loop unbundling, telecoms/internet convergence and information society markets in eight former Soviet states. 

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

“If they think they can slave an entire nation, then they will just have the opposite results!”, Alexis Tsipras cries out from the Greek parliament

German elections: Is Merkel losing ground or Shultz is winning?

An FTA between EU-US to hurt South Korea

Cameron readies to support ‘yes’ for Britain in the EU

The ECB accuses the politicians of inaction, continues injecting billions to banks

All talk but no action against fraudulent bankers

Global Citizen-Volunteer Internships

Google strongly rejects EU antitrust charges and now gets ready for the worst to come

Greece @ MWC14: Greek-born mobile champions at MWC 2014

Higher education becoming again a privilege of the wealthy?

China answers clearly to the European Commission’s investment negotiations with Taiwan

Bank resolutions and recapitalisations by the ESM may end up politically swayed

Does the West play the Syrian game in Egypt?

Eurozone examines the prospect of issuing debt paper jointly

EU’s core members are eyeing larger parts of arms trade and of world map

Greece: Tsipras’ referendum victory does not solve the financial stalemate of the country and its banks

COP21 Breaking News_12 December: 195 countries adopt the First Universal Climate Agreement

EU, Brazil to hold high level Summit in Brasilia

China invites the EU to a joint endeavor for free trade and order in the world

The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union will impact young people’s future the most

ECB doesn’t dare touch Eurozone’s big banks

Will Europe be able to deal with the migration crisis alone if Turkey quits the pact?

UK’s Cameron takes the field to speed up TTIP talks. Will “rocket boosters” work?

Aidex: the Global Humanitarian and Development Aid Event

Switzerland to favour EU citizens in immigration quotas as the risk of a new referendum looms

The cuts on 2014 Budget will divide deeply the EU

Crisis hit countries cut down public spending on education

EU Commission retracts on the Chinese solar panel case

IMF’s Lagarde to Peoples of the world: You have to work more for the banks!

The global issue of migration in 2017

The success story of a Chinese investment in the Greek port of Piraeus

Pumping more money into banks but leaving them unregulated doesn’t help

MWC 2016 LIVE: CEOs issue rallying call to drive ‘gigabit economy’

Who cares more about taxpayers? The US by being harsh on major banks or the EU still caressing them?

Europe enters uncharted waters with Kiev-Moscow standoff

So different, so close – for two twinning cities

Europe eyes to replace US as China’s prime foreign partner

Predatory labour taxation not an issue for the Commission

18th EU Eco-Innovation Forum in Barcelona shows the way for Europe’s new Environmental policy

EU agrees on Ukraine – Georgia visa-free travel amid veto risks and populist fears

The Europe we want: Just, Sustainable, Democratic and Inclusive

250 days until the European Parliament elections

The G7 adopted dangerous views about Ukraine and Greece

“Decisions taken in the coming weeks will shape Europe’s experience of the internet”, Joe Mcnamee from EDRi says live from European Business Summit 2015

Global Citizen-Volunteer Internships

Spirit unlimited

EU: All economic indicators in free fall

France and Poland to block David Cameron’s plans on immigration

1 million citizens try to create a new EU institution

The Monetary Union drives Europe into dangerous paths, CoR demands an EMU of regional content

An expert in the South China Sea issue on an exclusive interview at the European Sting

South Eurozone needs some…inflation and liquidity

What lessons to draw from the destruction of Syria

May threatens the EU with a wild Brexit indifferent to Scotland, Northern Ireland and the City

European Business Summit 2013: Where Business and Politics shape the future

ECB to play down IMF’s alarms for deflation danger in the EU

War of words in Davos over Eurozone’s inflation/deflation

The Chinese solar panels suddenly became too cheap for Europe

Uncovered liabilities of €5 billion may render EU insolvent

The European Internet is not neutral and neither is the Commissioner

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s