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. 

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Guterres holds ‘focused and frank’ informal discussions over future of Cyprus

Traditional knowledge at ‘core’ of indigenous heritage, and ‘must be protected’, says UN Forum

Europe and UN form bulwark against ‘might makes right’ worldview, EU foreign affairs chief tells Security Council

Can cybersecurity offer value for money?

Venezuela: MEPs call for free and fair elections in the crisis-torn country

Political solutions ‘prerequisite to sustainable peace’, Lacroix tells Security Council

These 11 EU states already meet their 2020 renewable energy targets

Global warming: our responsibility

Climate change: cutting the good by the root?

On youth unemployment: unemployment is even bleaker for youth with disabilities

Record-high number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan: UN Report

2020 Blue Economy Report: Blue sectors contribute to the recovery and pave way for EU Green Deal

Militias force nearly 2,000 to leave Libyan capital’s largest shelter for internally-displaced: UNHCR

Constitutional Committee breakthrough offers ‘sign of hope’ for long-suffering Syrians

This is what you need to know about the Iran nuclear deal

EU budget: Regional Development and Cohesion Policy beyond 2020

Me and China

What do refugees really need from those who want to help? A refugee explains

ECB tied in the anti-monetary German ideology

10 ways COVID-19 could reshape offices

This crisis cannot be confronted with statistics

Three ways to improve your corporate culture in the #MeToo era

Nepal faces a crisis as COVID-19 stems the flow of remittances

UN climate panel says ‘unprecedented changes’ needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C

Is Data Privacy really safe seen through Commissioner’s PRISM?

Does it pay for cities to be green?

Trade: EU and 16 WTO members agree to work together on an interim appeal arbitration arrangement

Reimagining the future for skills: What we learned from young people

Children are still dying in Yemen war, despite partial ceasefire, says UNICEF chief

British PM May’s Brexit proposal remains obscure while her government unravels

Brexit must not put UK university research at risk

Brazil identifies a clear pathway for aligning its transfer pricing framework with the OECD standard

Spirit unlimited

GSMA Announces First Keynote Speakers for 2019 “MWC Los Angeles, in Partnership with CTIA”

Why education and accountability are important for developing countries?

Assembly of European Regions @ European Business Summit 2014: The European regions on the path to recovery

Why it’s good to turn your colleagues into friends

TTIP’s 11th round starts in Miami but EU-US businesses see no sunny side

‘Don’t forget Madagascar’s children’, UN appeals for long-term help as emergency worsens

Could a Digital Silk Road solve the Belt and Road’s sustainability problem?

Which countries get the most sleep – and how much do we really need?

Yesterday’s “jokes” and sarcasm by Digital Single Market’s Vice President Ansip on EU member states’ right to protect their telco markets

The 5 biggest challenges cities will face in the future

From DIY editing to matchmaking by DNA: how human genomics is changing society

Mergers: Commission approves the acquisition of Flybe by Connect Airways, subject to conditions

Why forensic science is in crisis and how we can fix it

US and Mexico child deportations drive extreme violence and trauma: UNICEF

5 steps businesses can take to protect air quality after COVID-19

ILO’s Bureau for Employers´Activities to publish new study on women in business and management

DR Congo: Ebola claims over 1,000 lives, Guterres commits ‘whole’ UN system, to help ‘end the outbreak’

How can impact investors balance the green energy equation?

New UN initiative to support financial systems that ‘work better for everyone, everywhere’

Deal on faster exchange of non-EU nationals’ criminal records

How our global battle against coronavirus could help us fight climate change

5G will drive Industry 4.0 in the Middle East and Africa

Putting a price on carbon will help New York state achieve a clean energy future

The entire Australian state of New South Wales is in drought

How do you get people to trust self-driving vehicles? This company is giving them ‘virtual eyes’

Mali: Presidential elections critical to consolidate democracy, says UN peacekeeping chief

EP stands up for democracy in Hungary during COVID-19

More Stings?

Advertising

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s