26 March 2009

Save the European Internet – Write to Your MEPs

Things seem to be going from bad to worse with the EU's Telecoms Package. Now, not only do we have to contend with French attempts to push through its “three strikes and you're out” approach again, which the European Parliament threw out, but there are several other amendments that are being proposed that will effectively gut the Internet in Europe.

The Open Rights Group has a good summary of two of the main threats (also available from its Blackout Europe Facebook group):

One of the most controversial issues is that of the three-strikes strongly and continuously pushed by France in the EU Council. Although most of the dispositions introducing the graduate response system were rejected in first reading of the Telecom Package, there are still some alarming ones persisting. France is trying hard to get rid of Amendment 138 which seeks to protect users’ rights against the three-strikes sanctions and which, until now, has stopped the EU from applying the three-strikes policy. Also, some new amendments reintroduce the notion of lawful content, which will impose the obligation on ISPs to monitor content going through their networks.

The UK government is pushing for the “wikipedia amendments” (so-called because one of them has been created by cutting and pasting a text out of the wikipedia) in order to allow ISPs to make limited content offers. The UK amendments eliminate the text that gives users rights to access and distribute content, services and applications, replacing it with a text that says “there should be transparency of conditions under which services are provided, including information on the conditions to and/or use of applications and services, and of any traffic management policies.”

To these, we must now add at least one more, which the indispensable IPtegrity site has spotted:

Six MEPs have taken text supplied by the American telecoms multi-national, AT&T, and pasted it directly into amendments tabled to the Universal Services directive in the Telecoms Package. The six are Syed Kamall , Erika Mann, Edit Herczog , Zita Pleštinská , Andreas Schwab , and Jacques Toubon .

AT&T and its partner Verizon, want the regulators in Europe to keep their hands-off new network technologies which will provide the capability for broadband providers to restrict or limit users access to the Internet. They have got together with a group of other telecoms companies to lobby on this issue. Their demands pose a threat to the neutrality of the network, and at another level, to millions of web businesses in Europe.

As you can read, this is a grave danger for the Internet in Europe, because it would allow telecom companies to impose restrictions on the services they provide. That is, at will, they can discriminate against new services that threaten their existing offerings – and hence throttle online innovation. The Internet has grown so quickly, and become so useful, precisely because it is an end-to-end service: it does not take note of or discriminate between packets, it simply delivers them.

What is particularly surprising is that one of the MEPs putting forward this amendment is the UK's Syed Kamall, who has a technical background, and in the past has shown himself aware of the larger technological issues. I'm really not sure why he is involved in this blatant attempt by the telecoms companies to subvert the Internet in Europe.

Since he is one of my MEPs (he represents London), I've used the WriteToThem service to send him the following letter:

I was surprised and greatly disappointed to learn that you are proposing an amendment to the Telecoms Package that would have the consequence of destroying the network neutrality of the Internet – in many ways, its defining feature.

Your amendment 105, which requires network providers to inform users of restrictions and/or limitations on their communications services will allow companies to impose arbitrary blocks on Internet services; instead, we need to ensure that no such arbitrary restrictions are possible.

As the inventor of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has pointed out when net neutrality was being debated in the US (http://dig.csail.mit.edu/breadcrumbs/node/144):

“When I invented the Web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA.

I blogged on net neutrality before, and so did a lot of other people. ... Since then, some telecommunications companies spent a lot of money on public relations and TV ads, and the US House seems to have wavered from the path of preserving net neutrality. There has been some misinformation spread about. So here are some clarifications.

Net neutrality is this:

If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.

That's all. Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens.

Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free.

Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn't pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will

There have been suggestions that we don't need legislation because we haven't had it. These are nonsense, because in fact we have had net neutrality in the past -- it is only recently that real explicit threats have occurred.”

He concludes:

“Yes, regulation to keep the Internet open is regulation. And mostly, the Internet thrives on lack of regulation. But some basic values have to be preserved. For example, the market system depends on the rule that you can't photocopy money. Democracy depends on freedom of speech. Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it.”

I'm afraid that what your amendment will do is to destroy that freedom. I am therefore asking you to withdraw your amendment, to preserve the freedom of the connection that allows new services to evolve, and innovations to be made without needing to ask permission of the companies providing the connection. Instead, the Internet needs net neutrality to be enshrined in law, and if possible, I would further request you and your colleagues to work towards this end.

If you are also based in London – or in a constituency represented by one of the five other MEPs mentioned in the IPtegrity story - I urge you to write a similar (but *not* identical) letter to them. It is vitally important these amendments be withdrawn, since most MEPs will be unaware of the damage they can do, and might well wave them through. Further letters to all MEPs will also be needed in due course, but I think it's best to concentrate on these particular amendments for the moment, since they are a new and distrubing development.

Follow me on Twitter @glynmoody


Anonymous said...

I am surprised to see Erika Mann in the list too. Over the years I have known her she has been supportive of initiatives towards openness and transparency.

Anonymous said...

If you don't know who your MEP is, you can look it up at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/public/yourMep/view.do

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, there's something strange going on here.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the link.

Jim Killock said...

The campaign group now have a web page

Glyn Moody said...

@Jim thanks (YHDM on Twitter)