Network Neutrality is a Matter for All.
It is common knowledge that the freedom people have enjoyed over the Internet so far has allowed for a level of creativity and innovation, unprecedented in human history. It has opened new spaces for expression and allowed new opportunities for business.
In countries lacking transparency and democracy and where governments still guard the gates of the Internet, dissenting websites and online services have regularly been blocked or hacked into. The recent China vs. Google episode is a case in point obviously.
According to OpenNet Initiative (ONI) Morocco is one of few countries in the Middle East and North Africa with no evidence of active filtering of the Internet. In its most recent report, published last August, ONI contends that:
Morocco’s Internet filtration regime is relatively light and focuses on a few blog sites, a few highly visible anonymizers, and for a brief period, the video sharing Web site YouTube. Sites advocating for the independence of the Western Sahara are no longer inaccessible. The issues Morocco faces in Western Sahara’s push for independence (sic), the specter of terrorism, and the protection of the royal family and Islam from defamation have led Morocco to crack down on free speech and the press, but have not led it to significantly censor the Internet. As Internet users can access blocked material on other accessible sites, it is clear that Morocco’s filtration regime is not comprehensive. Relative to the region, Moroccan Internet access is relatively free, but the fact that the authorities have started to prosecute online writers indicates limited tolerance to users’ online activities.
It is clear that the battle for free expression in those countries is intimately tied to the struggle for human rights and democracy in general and that the apparent “tolerance” vis-à-vis Internet access has no guaranties attached to it as long as the system of governance in those authoritarian regimes is not fundamentally changed. At least in those countries the players (government vs. the public) are out in the open and the stakes are clear.
The battle for a free Internet is fought elsewhere.
More worrying and more insidious are the efforts in western democracies by interest groups and lobbyists with enough money to pressure decision makers and allow a reshaping of the network so as to benefit the “gatekeepers.” Even more so in the US where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have the ability and the incentives to control the free access to the network. The risk being, if the ISPs succeed in curving regulatory rules in their favor, to foreclose most of the innovation and creativity that most benefit from with a broadband service that is free, fast and fair. The service providers though control what we do, what we see, with what quality and what speed.
The debate over Network Neutrality has emerged in the US 6 years ago when the previous American administration started deregulating broadband companies and taking away most of the consumer safeguards. It’s a debate about monopoly vs. participatory, corporate vs. consumer’s choice.
[It’s about] the right of Internet users to access content, services and applications on the Internet without interference from network operators or overbearing governments. It also encompasses the right of network operators to be reasonably free of liability for transmitting content and applications deemed illegal or undesirable by third parties. Those aspects of net neutrality are relevant in a growing number of countries and situations, as both public and private actors attempt to subject the Internet to more control. Because Internet connectivity does not conform to national borders, net neutrality is really a globally applicable principle that can guide Internet governance.
There have been instances when Internet Service Providers did use their dominant position to block content that threatened their economic interests:
[T]here are, unfortunately […] cases where network operators have censored speakers who threatened their economic interests. In 2007, for example, AT&T muted the sound during a webcast of a Pearl Jam concert at the very moment Eddie Vedder, the group’s lead singer, started criticizing George W. Bush. Verizon, to cite another example, has blocked pro-choice text messages sent by naral to its members (who had even requested them). When activists objected to the decision, Verizon said it would block messages from all “issues-oriented” groups, then later apologized for the whole mess, blaming the initial decision on a “dusty internal policy.” Nevertheless, it kept the policy in place–reserving the right to censor any content “that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory.”
[I]magine if this sort of blocking happened online, in the heat of a political campaign; even a brief delay could have a big impact in that context.
Derek Slater, Policy Analyst for Google Inc. to Global Voices.
The safeguards, scraped during the Bush years in 2005, are now in the process of being reestablished. The US’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has started a process to restore some of the rules that prevented powerful ISPs from controlling the network and harming consumer’s choice. The decisions and conclusions of the FCC are very critical to all Internet users around the globe. An active grassroots campaign is underway to pressure the FCC to reach the right conclusions in support of net neutrality.
Perhaps the most striking analogy is the one made with the way cable television has evolved and works. If nothing is done to preserve network independence and neutrality, the future of the Internet might look like this:
For further resources see links and videos bellow.
What’s Open Net
Debunking the Corporate Myths on Net Neutrality
Keep the Internet Awesome
Hey FCC, keep the Internet open — and awesome!
Debate on C-Span over Network Neutrality.
The Open Internet Coalition – a US coalition of NGOs as well as companies that support network neutrality.
“Squaring the Net” resources on network neutrality.
Net Neutrality At Home Is Key to Promoting Democracy Abroad,” by Marvin Ammori, Free Press
Net Neutrality or Net Neutering: Should Broadband Internet Services Be Regulated by Thomas M. Lenard