net neutrality

Net Neutrality is defined by its supporters as the circumstance in which telecoms operators do not discriminate their users’ communications and remain mere transmitters of information. It ensures that all users, whatever their resources, access the same network in its entirety.

Apparently this is a good principle, not yet defined in the EU community acquis, but mentioned several times in the recommendations of the European Parliament. The main debate around Net Neutrality is centered on the interests of telecom operators in traffic management that might restrict access to parts of Internet.

Just imagine accessing a network where only certain sites are available and then ask yourself if that is the Internet. While the biggest debate revolves around the definition of the technical aspects of Net Neutrality, there is always another issue lurking behind it. It might not be an immediately obvious issue, but it does have direct consequences, i.e. the possibility of restricting content on a mass scale, based on copyright claims.

The current laws allow for removal of content based on copyright claims in individual cases, after judicial procedures. Yet every time a Net Neutrality debate was put up, the right-holders industry showed up and tried to turn telecom operators into a private copyright enforcement arm, policing the content according to commercial agreements that might or might not be in accordance with the respective laws of a country laws, or with the currently international treaties.

And since we just mentioned international treaties, we also have to mention ACTA, TPP and TTIP, as vehicles for promoting clauses that try to establish private supranational interests as an equal partner in relation to the states.

The notions currently floating around are those of “filtering” and “unlawful content”. They are both darlings of the right-holders industry, but also of law enforcement and a segment of the politicians, due to vague nature. When used together, deciding what constitutes unlawful content and how it is filtered becomes a dictator’s wet dream. Filtering is already being implemented in Iran and China, and the U.S., as well as several European countries, are quickly following in their footsteps. We have reached a point where the Internet is becoming more and more restricted, and fundamental rights are being questioned in the name of protecting us from ourselves. It must be pointed out that, in the EU, the Telecom Package already includes provisions that mix restrictions and lawful content with contractual provisions, effectively providing the framework for national legislations to implement censorship.

Since the interests of telecom operators and right holders are similar, their actions have a negative impact on the decentralized architecture of the Internet, specifically on the freedom of communication and innovation it enables. The solution is to include properly defined Net Neutrality in the laws. If this will not happen soon, only those who are able to pay for privileged access will enjoy the network’s full capabilities, and even then the content will be censored to fit commercial or political interests.

Illustration by: Save the Internet