In Europe, internet died


by: oli

Author: Domen Savič, an internet freedom activist from Slovenia

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Compared to the digital market in the US, the actors in the European Digital Market are extremely uneven and ISPs in EU still act as big players and have a control over politicians, activists and other interest groups.

At the end of October 2015, the European Parliament voted in favor of a new regulation, supposedly establishing an internet without discrimination. The term “net neutrality” was never mentioned. The new legislation allows the creation of internet fast lanes for “specialized services” and lets ISPs offer so-called “zero-rating” products.

What followed? Just 48 hours after the adoption of the new regulation (this regulation will officially come into force in 6 months) Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, two biggest ISPs in Europe, announced they will charge startups 1% of their income for guaranteed good transmission quality. This would suggest that startups at the moment do not pay enough, but that is not the case. All online traffic should be treated equally and ISPs should not condition a good transmission quality.

Net neutrality is one of the basic forces behind the development of information society. A strict separation between the companies providing access to the internet and companies developing content and services for/on the internet is what made the online industry great and what kept disloyal competition from happening.

This concept has been in place since the beginning of Internet and has not caused any problems. Even more! Up until the ISPs kept the most profitable part of the internet, no concerns about the Google, Apple or other major earners were problematized.

But then the shift happened. New players arrived. Big empires arose, when companies earned big bucks on the fields of online shopping, advertising, gaming. ISPs, still sticking to old business models and earning money solely by providing access, woke up and wanted a bigger piece of the pie.

After a few flopped experiments – unsuccessfully imitating the digital market’s successful stories – ISPs came up with a “brilliant” idea. They will earn extra by not only charging the content users for accessing the internet but also content producers who produce and display the content on the Internet. Content producers will therefore have to pay in order for their content to be delivered to the users.

Politics stepped in and stopped the greed here and over the Atlantic. American and European regulators punished ISP’s greed and the telecoms reacted by filing lawsuits.

Now individual nations in the European Union will have to rule themselves whether their ISPs are violating the net neutrality or not. National regulators have not been very successful at sanctioning the net neutrality infringement so far. Net neutrality has been written into law in Slovenia since 2012 and we are waiting to see what BEREC –  Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications – will do next.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. High-level representatives of the European Commission have stated that the regulation is bad even before the vote. The public pressure, demands from the private sector and all content producers, could lead to a new talks and future re-edits of the regulation. But here we have a new problem.

We need to seriously tackle the question who is representing the interests of European internet technology and how these interests differ from those of the European ISPs. The debates in the European Parliament showed a worrying lack of knowledge and information literacy among the European Parliament Members, who voted in favor of the regulation despite the protests from the general and professional public.

We have to ask ourselves whether we are going to let the elected representatives, who voted in favor of the regulation which only serves the european ISPs, to still make the decisions for us.

And finally, we have to be true to ourselves and ask ourselves – are we involved in the legislative process and do we do enough? For now all the battles are happening between the greedy interest groups and ignorant politicians, who don’t understand why we are against it. Between these two there is more and more silence. Are we going to remain silent?