Does the Internet belong to corporations or to citizens? Who runs it? Who owns it? Who decides what’s on it? Is it going to turn into a TV with a Facebook extra? All of this is at stake. It’s a vote being forced by the telecoms industry, to spike any chance of Europe getting a net neutrality law after the Euro-elections. If this vote is lost, what can be done to save the Internet?
On Tuesday morning, the European Parliament will take a strategic vote for the future of the Internet as we know it. The law that is being voted on is the propsed new Telecoms REgulation, also known as the Regulation on a European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent. Inside the Parliament, the net neutrality issue is clearly the subject of a massive political fight, with over
100 pages of amendments on the voting list, just for this one issue. The pressure is on from the big telecoms companies, such as Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom, who want to prevent the new Parliament from bringing in a net neutrality law.
It’s my understanding from speaking with other lobbyists, that telecoms industry were the prime movers behind this proposal, for that reason.
Support for industry is why they’ve rushed through this - thoroughly bad – proposal for a telecoms regulation ( Connected Continent). The entire proposal has been badly drafted and ill-thought through from beginning to end, and has been much criticised in respect of all provisions.
Next Tuesday’s vote is a committee vote. It’s not the final, but committees are important because they shape the final vote in the full Parliament. The outcome of a committee vote can be changed in the full plenary, but it’s more difficult.
Hence, if the committee supports what the rapporteur and the telecoms industry want, it will be more difficult to turn it around later. On the other hand, if the committee supports some of the alternative amendments - those which have been forward by Catherine Trautmann and Marietje Scahaake – then there is more chance of getting an outcome that favours – or least, does not kill – the Internet, when the full Parliament votes.
The fracas is focussing on key amendments about bandwidth capping, prioritised services, and something called ‘specialised services’. In essence, whether your broadband provider can do deals with content and applications providers, putting them in a fast lane and everyone else in the slow lane. And whether it can manipulate this scenario in devious ways using bandwidth caps – for example, content providers may pay money to be ‘free’ services inside the bandwidth cap, and the provider manoeuvres the service so it’s too expensive for users to choose a competitor outside the cap. (See The EU's net neutrality compromise - what does it really mean? with links to all my previous articles on this topic)
This debate is however, being conflated with the argument over specialised services. It’s possible that some of these special deals could run over services that are totally outside the Internet ecosystem, and then they would be called a specialised service. My own opinion is that ‘specialised services’ could be a ruse by the telecoms companies to run standard services like voice and TV, but avoid regulation. This situation has not been analysed, which is why I think this law should not be passed right now.
The situation in the European Parliament is that the rapporteur, Mrs Pilar Del Castillo, is pushing amendments that support the prioritisation, bandwidth cap manoeuvring and specialised services that the telecoms industry wants - an agenda that stands to be disastrous for the open Internet. MEPs Catherine Trautmann and Marietje Schaake are countering with amendments that among other things, give explicit support for net neutrality. La Quadrature du Net have set out a summary and also published an annotated voting list .
In fact, the agenda of the telecoms companies that pushed the European Commission to draft this law, is even more devious. The large telecoms companies can already do deals with content companies, and they can already place restrictions on services. For example, mobile companies who block Skype. What they want is legal certainty that they can carry on like this. At the moment, the law does not disallow it, and some of them are getting away with it. They want the law to positively underpin what they do.
Worse, they want to do things like ‘personalised networks’ where, knowing that you are a regular Facebook user, they will charge extra for giving you a network connection ‘optimised’ for Facebook. What this will do is balkanise the Internet, splitting it up into little sections, and acting as a real spoiler for those companies and individuals whose business model is based on being able to connect to anyone, anywhere.
Hence, the choice for the MEPs voting on Tuesday, is not even whether they are pro or anti-big business. It's notable that the Financial Times has entered the fray with a plea to “Protect the open web and the promise of the digital age” suggesting that big business has as much an interest in keeping the Internet open as citizens may have.
It’s about who should control the networks, and how business divvies up the revenue and what is fairest way to do it. In addition, it’s about protecting democracy and the fundamental rights of individuals to communicate with each other, as enshrined in the European Convention.
Those who believe that an open and neutral Internet is the fairest option have a strategic interest in the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.
La Quadrature du Net are urging concerned citizens who would like the European Parliament to protect the open Internet, to contact their MEP. In particular, anyone doing this should express support for the S&D/Greens amendement tabled by Catherine Trautmann. La Quadrature du Net have created a special website savetheinternet.eu with all the information on it.
To understand the political context to the Telecoms regulation (Connected Continent) , see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the ‘Telecoms Package’ which discusses the 2009 Telecoms Package and the processing of it by the European Parliament.
If you are more interested in how the lobbying operates in the European Parliament, then you may also like my other book A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms
This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, Will the EU Parliament save the open Internet? Crucial vote on Tuesday, in Iptegrity.com 14 March 2014. Commercial users - please contact me.
Tags: EU Telecoms Regulation, EU, European Commission, European Parliament, Connected Continent, net neutrality, Pilar del Castillo, ITRE, Telecoms Package, telecoms reform package.