Network Neutrality – What it is and where is it going?
This article is an Editorial and expresses the opinion of the author.
“The principle of universality allows the Web to work no matter what hardware, software, network connection or language you use and to handle information of all types and qualities… Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend. The Web is also vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes possible a continuous worldwide conversation. The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium.” (Scientific American, 5 June 2013)
Network Neutrality is a term often mentioned, but yet differently defined depending on the point of view of the person or organisation defining it. In fact, it has become one of the most widely used terms when talking about the Internet today. Different individuals and organisations claim to support it and uphold by it, but the parts they emphasise are often different. I will mention two main definitions the one based on the right of consumer choice and the other on digital rights, freedoms and control of access.
Google defines network neutrality as a principle that users should be able to control the content they view and the applications they use on the Internet. Also, broadband carriers shouldn’t be allowed to use their market strength to discriminate competing content applications. (Google Public Policy Blog, 2010.)
As is seen from the definition Google supports, Network Neutrality is nothing more than the right for consumer choice in the open market. It is aimed against broadband carriers who also, following their interest, try to push their proprietary solutions onto users and prioritise their own applications and services over ones from rival tech companies like Google. Although this definition covers one aspect of network neutrality, I do not believe it to be adequate for embracing the full scope of the term.
Network neutrality is much more than a simple principle of open competition, it has an equally important political, democratic and technological part which defines is as the cornerstone of the Free Internet. The definition that I believe covers all the important aspects of Network Neutrality is one found on the “friendly web encyclopaedia“ QWhatIs.com:
„Net Neutrality is a principle to offer restriction free internet to end users. This principle states that internet should be neutral to end users and no restriction can be made from the part of internet providers and government. Net Neutrality is a network paradigm that argues internet service providers should be completely detached from what information is sent over the network. Service providers are trying to implement tiered internet. Neutrality protagonists argue that telecom service providers want to create a artificial scarcity, oblige content providers to buy the bandwidth or the services will turn to be uncompetitive“. (Qwhatis.com, 7 June 2013.)
It is my stand and that of the Pirate Movement that without the Free and Open Internet there is no possibility of its conceptualisation as a platform for upgrading current democratic practices. Only the Free and Open Internet can serve as a sphere of deliberative (liquid) democracy and a new community of open co-operation. The principle of Network Neutrality is one of the prerequisite foundations of such a system; without it the Internet would become a closed and walled system of “particular internets“ of different countries, organisations and corporations.
Network Neutrality and Internet regulation legislation has been in the focus of the international community for the last couple of years. There is a constant threat of back-door meetings, closed conferences and corporative lobbying trying to push restrictive legislation regarding copyrights, publishing and patent rights and censorship. This is one of the main reasons the Pirate Movement was created in the first place; to protect human rights, freedom of speech and liberty on the Internet and consequently in everyday life. The situation today varies deeply, even between “western democracies“, not to mention non-democratic regimes. For example, countries such as the Netherlands and Slovenia can be considered “champions“ of defending Network neutrality in the current situation, while others are „harbingers“ of its restriction.
In the Netherlands, a Network Neutrality law was passed in 2011 which “prohibits the blocking of internet services, usage of deep packet inspection to track customer behaviour and otherwise filtering and manipulating network traffic“.(Wikipedia, 7 June 2013.)
A similar law has been passed in the Slovenian Parliament on 20 December 2012, which „confirms the open and neutral character of the Internet and forbids the discrimination of Internet traffic on the basis of the services provided.“ (edri.org, 7 June 2013.)
These are just some examples, more and more legislation is discussed and passed every day all over the world directly or indirectly touching the subject of Network Neutrality. The danger is in international laws and treaties that are being discussed far from the public eye and are branded as “trade agreements“ but also regulate the Internet and restrict the right of free speech and expression by the guise of protecting copyright and patent laws. It is my opinion that today, more than ever, the role of the Pirate Movement is crucial as the forefront defender of digital rights, freedoms and free speech.
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.“ – James Madison