‘Save the internet’ campaign for European net neutrality relaunched

When the European Commission’s original proposal for net neutrality surfaced in 2013, it was full of loopholes which would have allowed specialized services to exist. The proposal was a threat to true net neutrality because it explicitly allowed for certain internet websites and services to be given priority – privileged bandwidth – over other services.  If this were allowed to happen, ISPs would become a sort of gatekeeper, dishing out internet of different capacities to different services either on a whim, or (more likely), at a cost. The original proposal also allowed for the biased blocking of websites, applications and content – a discrimination which would have been a clear threat to real net neutrality.

Last year those loopholes were thankfully removed when the 751 MEP’s of the European Parliament voted for a revised version of the original proposal, which would have given Europe a strong, equal, and diversity-driven internet. Unfortunately, in Europe there is a third EU institution – the Council of the European Union – and last month its representatives from Member State governments once more revised the proposal, reinstating some of the problematic areas that were present in the first place.

In the US there has been a real win for net neutrality, with the FCC voting in favor of regulating ISPs in the same way that telecommunications companies are (under Title II), and although it has some skeptics wondering whether this will allow the internet to be regulated in yet unforeseen ways, Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC says that is nonsense, and claims the decisions have been made to keep the internet free and open in the same way that the first amendment allows for freedom of speech, saying that,

‘The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It is simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field. Think about it. The Internet has replaced the functions of the telephone and the post office. The Internet has redefined commerce, and as the outpouring from four million Americans has demonstrated, the Internet is the ultimate vehicle for free expression. The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules.’

The pressure to follow suit is now sitting firmly on the EU’s shoulders, with tension mounting for the EU to make some important decisions regarding the regulation of internet services, and it is for this reason that  a campaign called Save the Internet: Defend Net Neutrality in Europe was relaunched this week. The campaign, which was originally launched in January, calls for people to write to their EU representatives in the Council of the European Union to insist on true net neutrality, and urging MEP’s to resist the latest changes to the proposals for net neutrality – changes which many feel are a real threat to the future of the internet in Europe.

Jim Killock, executive director of the UK’s Open Rights Group, one of the main organizations behind the new campaign, explains the problems with the latest revisions to the EU’s proposal for net neutrality,

‘It allows more or less any kind of discrimination for supposed premium services: in other words, it lets ISPs discriminate for commercial purposes. This is much more than dealing with congestion and the consequences of under-investment. It is about ISPs being able to carve up greater niches and extract money as gatekeepers’

Unfortunately, things are even more complicated than first meets the eye: last year there was a change of EU commissioners, Neelie Kroes (who was particularly pro-net neutrality) was replaced by Günther Oettinger, and following the surprising disclosure of reasons why he disagrees with net neutrality, Oettinger has become a loud voice of opposition,

‘Is it more important, that in the car—the six-year-old daughter sitting in the back on the right, downloading music, YouTube, and on the left the nine-year-old rascal doing some random games—is it more important that those two [have a] real-time [connection] or that the old man in front hears in real time that someone is approaching from the right?  I think downloading YouTube can wait a few seconds. I think we can let the game at some times be less than perfect on the screen. But road safety (a commercial service!), health (a commercial service!) and a few others come to my mind: they should be able to deviate from net neutrality, this Taliban-like issue.’

Though I hate to admit it, if cars were to have automated systems on board which monitored car proximities and speeds (in order to avoid crashes and save lives), these services may indeed deserve a separate fast lane of internet communication. Imagine, for example, a distinct ‘side-net’ for essential services that exists separately from the usual ones we have all come to love and expect.  This, however, is an issue for the future, because as far as I know there are no such life saving services on the table at the moment that would require a dedicated fast lane.

Also, we can be sure that if such services did arrive which needed prioritized internet access, then a fair discussion among citizens and governments alike would no doubt lead to new proposals and amendments that need not affect general neutrality of internet services for consumers – common sense.

The truth is that Europe may be procrastinating on purpose – first they had a proposal, then an amendment that people were happy with, now this further amendment that takes the EU back to square one, while all the time the US is the guinea pig, leading the debate on net neutrality with real action which Europe can watch upon with interested eyes to see what happens, and to see if there are legal repercussions… which there may well be yet.

In the US, trade groups and ISPs are preparing six lawsuits against the FCC for its net neutrality decision, and if any of those should win, the court rulings could have a direct effect on what Europe decides to do. It seems pretty obvious, then, that the EU may have some pretty legitimate reasons to be throwing the ball back and forth for a while – in order to see what the outcome of the FCC’s ruling in the US comes to – and perhaps saving itself from any problematic issues.

As far as the ‘save the internet’ campaign goes, though, it is clear that members of the European Parliament did indeed vote a year ago strongly in favor of net neutrality, and as the executive director of European Digital Rights says,

‘They need to stand behind this decision and not be manipulated, bullied, or misled into weakening their position. We need to show them that citizens support them and the position that they took’

For now, then, the proceedings in Europe have moved into what is referred to as a ‘trialogue’, meaning that all three of the European institutions must gather in order to come to some sort of compromise. If you feel the same as many activists, and wish to be a part of their campaign to make sure the trialogue negotiations come to the right decision, then you can bolster their efforts by getting yourself on to the Save the Internet website, and by writing to your local European representative in the Council of the European Union.

Ray Walsh I am a freelance journalist and blogger from England. I am highly interested in politics and in particular the subject of IR and I am an advocate for freedom of speech, equality and personal privacy. On a more personal level I like to stay active, love snowboarding, swimming and cycling, enjoy seafood and love to listen to trap music.

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