Net neutrality is the recipe for a successful Internet. This principle states that all data traffic on the Internet must be treated equally and that Internet providers must not abuse their control over the physical infrastructure of the network. The internet's architecture has made it a universal network, from which the vast amount of innovation and variety of services developed. This principle has been increasingly under attack in recent years by the telecom industry. That is why we have been fighting for the legal protection of net neutrality for years and finally prevailed at EU level in August 2016. Now it's time to push for compliance with the new law so the Internet can prevail as a free and open platform.
The Internet today is much more than pure entertainment or a luxury. Rather, Internet access today is synonymous with social participation. Being excluded from the net makes it extremely difficult to educate oneself, find a job, or make informed choices regarding elections and consumption. The internet also gives everyone a voice and is essential for a modern democracy.
On the Internet, all services can use the same global infrastructure. Without the need for permission by an authority, every invention, every startup, and every opinion can be available to all Internet users from day one. The network does not care if a data package is correct, legal, or important. The intelligence is at the ends of the network. Or, to put it in the words of Lawrence Lessig:
Like a daydreaming postal worker, the network simply moves the data and leaves the interpretation of the data to the applications at either end. This minimalism in design is intentional. It reflects both a political decision about disabling control and a technological decision about the optimal network design.
Lawrence Lessig: Code and other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books 1999. p. 32
The EU Commission proposes the abolition of net neutrality
On September 11, 2013, the then EU Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes introduced a law for the telecom market, which included the abolition of net neutrality. That mobilized us to promptly propose amendments to this law. Together with some like-minded NGOs in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam, the campaign SaveTheInternet.eu was launched as a European alliance for the safeguarding of net neutrality. This campaign has received tremendous support from scientists, companies, journalists, and thousands of citizens.
Among other things, the campaign has worked so well because it used a very old medium to complement the modern medium: the internet. Using the website, people were able to send a fax to MEPs with just a few clicks. More than 40,000 faxes were sent to the deputies' offices and, because a fax machine is also a printer, a tangible symbol of the will of the people was brought to the deputies. Through all these efforts, we have succeeded, at the first reading in the European Parliament, in fundamentally altering the Commission's proposal and guaranteeing genuine net neutrality with the new legislation.
Unfortunately, an EU legislative process happens not only in the EP. The Council of competent ministers of the member states must also approve the law. There was a compromise between the positions of the Commission and the Parliament. In the following trilogue we had very little influence and the few negotiators agreed on a very vague and ambiguous text behind closed doors. This was adopted on October 27th, 2015 in Strasbourg. Yet, it still was not over.
New Hope: BEREC as saviour of net neutrality
The final step was for the European Regulators' Body (BEREC) to issue guidelines to implement the law. As in the entire process, we had been intensively involved in the debate by providing legal analyses and participating in many conversations and discussion rounds. We even visited most of the regulators and held meetings to convince the authorities with good arguments based on our expertise gained in recent years. Of course, there was also a new version of the SaveTheInternet.eu campaign, now the seventh version of the site.
Faxes alone would not have been enough to convince regulators. However, by means of a public consultation on the new guidelines in the summer months of 2016, citizens were able to get involved in the process. Although this consultation period was during the holiday season, we still managed to have half a million comments sent from across Europe to BEREC through our campaign platform.
So far, BEREC has had a maximum of one hundred responses, this time our results set a new record by a landslide. In the end, it was mainly our factual arguments that made the difference. BEREC issued guidelines on net neutrality on 30 August 2016. These guidelines almost completely safeguard the principle of net neutrality.
Read the full story of the three-year Europe-wide campaign. How we saved the internet in Europe
Enforcing the new law
We are considered beyond Austria's borders as valued experts for questions of network neutrality and we speak about this subject as experts and lecturers throughout Europe. In the future, we also want to monitor more cases of net neutrality violations and fight for compliance with net neutrality through regulators and courts.
Politically, the fight will continue with the new law on the EU Telecoms Code and the EU Regulation on the Organization of BEREC. We continue to fight for the preservation of a free and open internet.
- The Internet must be preserved as a free, open medium and must not be subjected to the profit motive of individual companies.
- The Internet is designed not to make any decisions about the quality, legality or importance of a data package. The intelligence and the innovation sits at the end nodes of the network, with the users.
- Innovation without permission! The Internet is so innovative and distinct in our society and economy because it allows everyone to connect their new services to the global network without a license and to be equally well available anywhere in the world.
- Discrimination: Internet service providers (ISPs) should not discriminate between individual applications or classes of applications.
- No paid fast lanes: There must be no paid fast lanes on the Internet for financially strong corporations. Every company, every invention and every idea should be equally well available.
- Special services should not be used to circumvent net neutrality. So-called special services do not have to adhere to net neutrality because they run parallel to the Internet. Services from the open internet may not be reclassified as a specialized service.
- Traffic management must not differentiate between applications. When a provider intervenes in network traffic, it should not differentiate between individual applications, but should use other criteria such as user consumption or user-controlled QoS (application agnostic network management).
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