internet may be an international system of interconnecting
networks sharing a rough global consensus about the technical
details of communicating
through them – but each country manages its own internet
independently. As the U.S. debate about the role of government in
and regulating the internet continues, it’s worth looking at how other
countries handle the issue.
research and advocacy on internet regulation in the U.S. and other
offers us a unique historical and global perspective on the Federal
Communications Commission’s December 2017 decision to deregulate
the internet in the U.S. The principle
of an open internet, often called “net neutrality,” is one of
protection. It is based on the idea that everyone – users and content
alike – should be able to freely spread their own views, and consumers
choose what services to use and what content to consume. Network
ensures that no one – not the government, nor corporations – is allowed
censor speech or interfere with content, services or applications.
the U.S. continues
to debate whether to embrace internet freedom, the world is
already, with many countries imposing even stronger rules than the ones
did away with.
US as trailblazer and laggard
2015, many internet businesses in the U.S. discriminated against or
customers from particular legal uses of the internet. In 2007 Comcast
its customers from sharing files between themselves. In 2009,
to Skype and FaceTime apps on its network. In 2011, MetroPCS
blocked its customers from streaming Netflix and all other
except YouTube (possibly
due to a secretly negotiated deal). In 2012, Verizon
disabled apps that let customers connect computers to their
service. There were many
other violations of the principle of net neutrality, too.
and regulators tried to control these discriminatory practices over many
years of public deliberation and multiple court cases. In
2015, under the
Obama administration, the FCC finalized the Open
Internet Order, a set of rules barring internet service
speeding up or slowing down traffic based on its content or whether the
companies posting it had paid extra to the company delivering the data.
far from perfect – but nonetheless a giant leap forward.
early 2017, after his inauguration, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai,
Verizon lawyer, as the FCC chairman. Pai, an Obama appointee
to the FCC who
had voted against the Open Internet Order in 2015, has
moved rapidly to undo
it. He and some
other comentators believe that customers will get better
service from a
less-regulated market, ignoring that the rules only emerged in the wake
problems and consumer complaints.
proposal has been criticized
by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as “a shameful sham and
sellout” to big
telecommunications companies. A
who’s-who list of the
people who invented the technologies and systems underlying
denounced Pai’s policy as “based on a flawed and factually inaccurate
understanding of internet technology.”
countries are facing similar dilemmas about how to deal with today’s
realities, and are slowly and individually contributing to a patchwork
of laws that
differ from country to country. But many highly industrialized and
developing countries share a general consensus that regulations
open internet are good for consumers and for civil society.
the internet Brazilian-style
Rights Framework for the Internet, enacted
in 2014 and further
refined in 2016, only allows internet service companies to
certain types of traffic for technical reasons – such as overloaded
capacity – or to allow network use by emergency services.
the country has been reluctant
to enforce these rules and hold violators to account. Much
like in the
U.S., there is increasing concern that industry
power has overwhelmed government regulatory agencies. Some of
telecommunications companies have been providing their mobile internet
customers with preferential
access to content on sites and services owned by business
Brazilian consumer rights groups are particularly alarmed because the
receiving this privileged treatment are all
large foreign corporations, including Facebook, WhatsApp,
music-streaming service Deezer (the only non-U.S. company).
addition, there are proposals in the works that would grant tens of
dollars in publicly
owned telecommunications infrastructure to private
companies for free. Brazilian internet freedom is further at
the country’s telecommunications companies are planning
to insist that its regulators align with the weakened U.S.
enforcement in Europe
European Union approved strong
rules in 2015, requiring companies that provide internet
access to handle
all traffic equally, leaving flexibility to restrict traffic when
equipment was operating at its maximum capacity. EU rules also allow
restrictions to protect network security and handle emergency
2016, European Union electronic communications regulators detailed
potential problems in agreements between telecommunications
content providers. And they explained that quality of service could
no specific applications should be discriminated against.
2017, they highlighted the importance of Europe’s
emphasis on proactively monitoring compliance with net
rather than waiting for violations to happen before reacting. This
European residents much stronger consumer protection than exists in the
takes a stand
has taken similarly strong steps. In 2016, the Telecom Regulatory
India approved rules stating that “no
service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs
services on the basis of content.” In November 2017, the agency also
on net neutrality,” laying out rules of the road for internet
providers that incorporate substantial protections against content and
regulators are looking
to balance consumer and corporate priorities in areas such as
privacy and ownership of data. Moreover, they are considering adopting
regulations to spur competition in mobile data services.
importantly, Indian regulators make very clear that companies providing
internet service should not do anything “that
effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender
protocols or user equipment.” This puts openness at the core of
service, the sort of clear consumer protection that public interest
and academics have called for.
U.S. isn’t an island
U.S. internet industry is a powerful global force, with billions
of users of its websites and online services all around the
the U.S. government has traditionally been a leader in developing
balance free speech, consumer protection and other civil rights with
opportunities for research and business innovation – but this too is
neutrality protections might not be so necessary if the broadband
more competitive. But 29
percent of Americans have no options for getting high-speed
service at home. Another 47 percent have just one choice – and 20
telecommunications industry continues to consolidate – though the U.S.
Department of Justice is trying to block
the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger. In this market
with few providers,
and many companies seeking profits by promoting their own content via
networks, net neutrality protections will only become
important – not less so.
legally speaking, policy and regulatory decisions made in the U.S.
any direct power in other countries. However, domestic rules about the
will indeed affect the global conversation around net neutrality. What
decides, through the FCC, the courts and potentially
even through Congress, will determine whether U.S. leadership
internet remains strong, or whether it will cede
ground to other countries willing to protect their citizens.
article was originally published at The Conversation and is reprinted
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