In 2020, will the Internet be a restricted, censored and licenced Internet available only to the rich and the techies? Or a neutral open platform protected by EU law?
10 years ago we were in the middle of an exciting e-commerce revolution - or so we thought. Telecoms became sexy. Everyone wanted to
be in it. Direct marketing people, with no technical knowledge, suddenly morphed into e-commerce experts. New companies called "dot-coms" claimed to offer new ways of doing business which did not depend on old-fashioned structures. The owner of one of them, Martha Lane-Fox of Lastminute.com, was featured regularly in the media, held up as a shining example for others to follow. Share prices in all hi-tech companies hit a high, from which many were to tumble only a couple of years later. Mobile video was a dream on the manufacturers' development road-maps.
Policy-makers responded with the Ecommerce directive, which established the underlying communications infrastructure as a neutral ‘mere conduit' to carry the signals, but not interfere with the new industries that would be created on it. The digital economy was going to be Europe's future. And to cheer it on, the EU announced it's Information Society policy, now known as i2010.
Last year, 2009, saw the backlash from politicians in Europe. Egged on by certain creative industry lobbyists, they now say the Internet is out of control, the wild west. In Brussels, the Harbour Report in the Telecoms Package set up the enabling mechanism for Internet restrictions, originally denied by the rapporteur, but confirmed in the final press conference by his colleagues, who made a valiant effort to defend users' fundamental rights.
The French government manipulated the political process to get through its 3-strikes law that will do far more than punish a few copyright infringers, and puts at risk all open wifi hotspots and business Internet connections. The UK government is following suit with its own hi-tech versions of 3-strikes, which has equally devastating implications for broadband users. I believe that Spain could be the next with an anti-downloading law in the pipeline. Also in the UK, Martha Lane-Fox became the government's cheerleader for broadband infrastructure. And UK users are to be taxed for broadband, as per the December 2009 Finance Bill.
The final clause in the EU Telecoms Package - the replacement for Amendment 138 - will be put to test in the courts over the next decade. Will it, or will it not, stop European governments from legislating on 3-strikes as the French and British are doing? Top lawyers think it will, but as with any law, it will actually depend on how good the lawyers are at argumentation.
My prediction for 2010 is that the music and film industries will step up the pressure for ISP liability in matters of content (as previously published by the Society for Computers and the Law ).
Looking ahead for the rest of the decade, if these trends continue, we may extrapolate that by 2020, will see deep packet inspection (DPI) systems used to monitor users communications as the norm. ‘Technical measures' could be instituted to protect trademarks, children, and reputations, with libel and defamation law, and anti-terrorism law, swinging in against Internet users, bloggers, web hosts and website editors. Websites could have to be licenced. Fearful ISPs, under threat of liability law suits, will block anything that could land them in court - or takes the wrong line. They will also cosy up to the big media companies and offer users premium services. The response from users will be an increase in encrypted traffic, but they will also pay the premiums for the privilege of accessing standard content. As a result, the digital divide will become a chasm. Only those with technical knowledge or money will have access to the Information Society. Those with no money will have access to government and mass commerce sites only.
This is what the runes are saying. In the UK, the Digital Economy Bill already contains provisions for the government to take over web domain registration and ‘technical measures' imply DPI in some form. In the courts, trademark owners are pursuing eBay under trademark and counterfeiting law, with mixed results so far, but in the EU, the new Commission is trying to force in measures which are being demanded by those same trademark owners. And the European Commission is negotiating - without apparently having a mandate - on the secret ACTA - Anti-counterfeiting trade agreement. ACTA, strongly supported by the MPA, contains plans for a global 3-strikes policy and criminal measures for online copyright infringement. Plans being proposed by UK media pundits want to bring in libel actions against bloggers and website owners, and thus increase the field of restrictive activity. It is not looking good for the open Internet.
The one ray of hope lies ironically in another part of the European Commission which does have a brief from the European Parliament to draw up policy on protecting net neutrality. Such a policy, if well implemented, could help to stave off the worst effects of the other abovementioned proposals.
Here's a small preview of what Intenet censorship could mean, from an Australian NGO.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten 2010, What will the Internet be like in 2020? http://www.iptegrity.com 2 January 2010 .