By Barbara van Schewick on July 21, 2016 at 2:35 am
Today, 126 academics from Europe and around the world published an open letter to European telecom regulators urging them to protect the open Internet in Europe. Regulators are currently working on guidelines that will determine how Europe’s new net neutrality law will be applied in practice. The letter urges regulators to adopt three key changes to the guidelines to preserve meaningful net neutrality in Europe: (1) prevent fast lanes on the Internet; (2) provide certainty on zero-rating; and (3) limit discriminatory traffic management. The letter was submitted to the regulators on Monday, the last day of the public consultation on the topic.
You can read the full letter here.
The signatories include academics from a wide range of countries and subject areas, as well as academics specializing in fields relevant to the net neutrality debate. They come from universities such as the London School of Economics and Oxford University in the UK, the French National Centre for Scientific Research in France, the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, the Technical University Berlin, Ludwig Maximilians-Universität in Munich, the RWTH Aachen in Germany, American top universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Berkeley, the National Law University Delhi and the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, in India, and many more.
As academics, we need an open Internet: We use the Internet to publish and share our work with other academics and the public, teach students at our institutions and further afield, and collaborate with researchers around the world. The European net neutrality guidelines will either preserve or frustrate that ability.
But as we explain in the letter, an open Internet is critical for anybody:
“Enshrining sound safeguards for net neutrality within the guidelines is critical for allowing people in Europe and around the world to enjoy the full benefits of competition and exercise their rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom to conduct a business online.”
“As professional seekers, imparters, and receivers of information and ideas, we understand the pivotal importance of freedom of expression and urge you to take all necessary measures to guarantee that all individuals have the right to freely communicate and innovate without permission, so that they can truly be active participants in the information society, rather than mere consumers.”
Indeed, we join a broad, diverse movement urging regulators to strengthen the guidelines to protect the open Internet in Europe. The movement includes entrepreneurs, investors, technology companies and start-up organizations, public broadcasters, German media regulators, journalists, newspaper organizations, public interest and consumer groups from Europe and around the world, consumer watchdogs, faith groups – and more than 500,000 concerned citizens who participated in the public consultation asking for strong net neutrality rules.
Together, we are sending a clear, unified message to the EU: protect the free and open Internet.
Why net neutrality is vital for academics
Academics in Europe and around the world have a stake in preserving the open Internet. For example, consider the negative impact that fast lanes would have on our ability to research, collaborate, and educate. European telecom companies are pushing regulators to allow them to use a legitimate exception in the law to sidestep the law’s prohibition on fast lanes on the normal Internet. They want the power to offer fast lanes to any application or website that’s willing to pay an extra fee to reach people faster – not just to those that could not function without it. According to filings and public statements by major European telecom companies and equipment makers, this includes everyday services like online telephony, online video conferencing, or online video – services we use all the time for our work.
But if some companies can pay so that their content reaches people faster or works at a better quality, those who can’t pay don’t have a chance to compete and be heard. Most academics and academic institutions won’t be able to afford a fast lane. Wherever we are physically located, this will make it harder for us to collaborate and connect with people in Europe.
What the letter urges regulators to do
We urge the European regulators to adopt three changes to its guidelines to ensure meaningful net neutrality in Europe:
- Prevent fast lanes on the normal Internet: Europe’s net neutrality law bans fast lanes on the normal Internet. ISPs want to use the law’s legitimate exception for specialized services to circumvent that ban. To prevent that from happening, the guidelines should clarify that ISPs cannot use the specialized services exception to offer fast lanes to Internet applications, content, and services that can function on the normal Internet.
- Provide certainty on zero-rating: Zero-rating is the practice of exempting select apps from users’ monthly data caps. Instead of leaving the evaluation of zero-rating to later case-by-case evaluation by national regulators, “the guidelines should ban harmful forms of zero-rating (such as application-specific zero-rating and zero-rating for a fee), providing legal certainty and sustainable solutions that empower individuals, rather than relegate their Internet experience to a selection of sponsored services,” as we write in the letter.
- Limit discriminatory traffic management: Regulators need to prevent carriers from discriminating among classes of traffic to manage their networks, unless that is the only way to address the problem. The guidelines should clarify that discriminatory forms of traffic management, including practices that differentiate among classes of traffic, can only be used if less discriminatory, application-agnostic forms of traffic management are not available.
You can read the full letter here.
You can read more about the problems with the guidelines in an open letter that web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Harvard Professor and leading Internet scholar Larry Lessig, and me published last week: http://webfoundation.org/2016/07/four-days-to-save-the-open-internet-in-europe-an-open-letter/ (in English) and https://netzpolitik.org/2016/offener-brief-vier-tage-bleiben-noch-um-das-offene-internet-in-europa-zu-retten/ (in German).
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