In a book published in 1975, Andy Warhol suggested that Coca-Cola was an example of equality in consumerism. “A Coke is a Coke,” he said, "and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the president knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
For years, the internet operated under a similar principle known as net neutrality. Basically, it established that all data traffic moves under equal conditions and nobody can pay for individual data to move faster or better than others.
This is the principal that permitted new players such as Google to prosper and even manage to dislodge the giants of their era, such as Yahoo! They were able to do it because they were operating in the same space, under the same conditions.
The end of net neutrality, which the Federal Communications Commission approved last Thursday, has demolished that equality. We can imagine a new Google trying to pave the way forward with a superior algorithm, only without the resources to pay for the fast lane which, presumably, the real Google would indeed be able to afford. Consigned to having a poorer performance because it would live in the slow lane, the new Google would probably be condemned to obscurity.
It has rightly been pointed out that the FCC decision only to the United States. However, we would be fooling ourselves to ignore the fact that that country imposes the model which many others follow, especially in the area of technology. By virtue of not just a few trade agreements, sooner rather than later some Colombian company will find itself affected in some way by the changes in regulations.
Hence the importance of the declaration of David Luna, the minister of ICT*, who expressed that his office would not share in the decision on the grounds that it “limits the free and egalitarian internet.” For Minister Luna, Colombia must continue working to conserve the principle, supported here by law, which allows it to protect both consumers and free competition.
Oh, how I hope that will be the case. For those of us who believe that net neutrality was part of the internet’s DNA, the fear is the knowledge that this decision will lead, sooner or later, to a first-class and second-class internet.
In practical terms, the FCC has created a new tax that will end up being passed down to the final users when they want to navigate their favorite sites and view them with the best possible quality. This also threatens the capacity of startups to maneuver among today’s giants. In the interest of protecting and stimulating entrepreneurship, Colombia should not and cannot permit itself to follow a route like this which promises to change the landscape of the internet as we know it.
As Ferras Vinh of the Center for Democracy & Technology has said, “What this fight is really about is whether the next generation of tech companies will have the space to innovate and spread new ideas.”
It is also a fight for the public digital sphere to validate fundamental human rights, equality and freedom of expression.
*Translator’s note: ICT is an acronym for the Colombian government’s Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications.