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

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

EU leads the torn away South Sudan to a new bloody civil war

Germany and France only care about keeping their borrowing cheap

EU Parliament: It takes real banks to fight unemployment and recession

‘Internal security’ or how to compromise citizens’ rights and also make huge profits

Is the EU competent enough to fight human smuggling in 2015?

EU-Russia relations: the beginning of a warmer winter?

The IMF overstates the risks for Eurozone and downgrades the threats for the US economy

Draghi sees inflationary bubbles

Changing for the change: Medicine in Industry 4.0

US – Russia bargain on Syria, Ukraine but EU kept out

What the future holds for the EU – China relations?

Terrorism and migrants: the two awful nightmares for Europe and Germany in 2016

COP21 Breaking News: China has promised to cut emissions from its coal power plants by 60% by 2020

The EU bows to Turkey in view of the talks for a political settlement in Syria

Parliament sets conditions on EU-China investment deal

An EU Summit without purpose

US prosecutors now target Volkswagen’s top management, upsetting Germany

Berlin wants to break South’s politico-economic standing

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

MEPs and European Youth Forum call on EU to Invest in Youth

The Commission sees ‘moderate recovery’ but prospects deteriorate

EU legislation protecting home buyers approved in Parliament

Intel @ MWC14: Our Love Story with Mobile – Transforming Wireless Networks

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

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

How much more social deterioration can the EU people endure?

Access to health in the developped and developing world

Trump questions US – Europe kinship, approaches Russia

Italy solves the enigma of growth with fiscal consolidation: The Banking Union

The reason the world showed limited empathy to the Orlando victims

A sterilised EMU may lead to a break up of Eurozone

Microsoft’s YouthSpark: a kiss of Life to European Youth from the European Parliament

Galileo funding: A ‘small’ difference of €700 million

The next 48 hours may change the European Union

JADE Testimonial #1: Marcello @ Enlargement

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

Spirit unlimited

Deutsche Bank again in the middle of the US-EU economic skirmishes

The third bailout agreement for Greece is a done deal amid European economies full of problems

“Fortress Europe”, “Pegida” and its laughing stocks

Davos: Why the global elites couldn’t find answers this year?

Iran nuclear talks’ deadline extended: the match is still open for many

EU’s new environmental policy on biofuels impacts both the environment and the European citizen

ECB money bonanza not enough to revive euro area, Germany longs to rule with stagnation

More billions needed to help Eurozone recover; ECB sidesteps German objections about QE

EU economy: Between recession and indiscernible growth

My unlimited China

Forget about growth without a level playing field for all SMEs

EU and India re-open talks over strategic partnership while prepare for a Free Trade Agreement

COP21 Breaking News_03 December: UNFCCC Secretariat Launches Forest Information Hub

ITU Telecom World 2017 on 25-28 September in Busan, Republic of Korea

EU-Turkey deal on migrants kicked off but to who’s interest?

The South China Sea Arbitration: Illegal, Illegitimate and Invalid

EU to lead one more fight against climate change at G7 summit

China is the first non-EU country to invest in Europe’s €315 billion Plan

In China things are moving in the right direction

Has Germany rebuffed ECB on the banking union?

“Airbnb and YouTube are two great examples of a crowd based capitalism”, key stakeholders outline the boundaries of the 4th Industrial Revolution in Davos

Why do medical students need to emigrate to become doctors in 2017?

Junker for Commission President: What were the stakes in this affair

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