Yes, the Internet Is ‘Public Property’

Beyond its technical mysteries and the huge financial issues at stake, it’s a predominantly political decision that has been taken by the Federal Communications Commission, the regulator of communications, and thus the Internet, in the United States. Furthermore, when you take into account the influence of the American digital economy giants, it’s a decision that will directly affect the rules of play between service providers, content and service providers, and citizen Web consumers, both in Europe and across the world.

The economic, political and judicial battle has been waging across the Atlantic for months, even years. On one side, the Republicans and big American providers, like Verizon and Comcast, argued that net neutrality — meaning equal access to telephone networks operated by all content providers, from Netflix to YouTube via more modest sites — would constitute unacceptable state interference in the operations of private companies. In their eyes, such a constraint would limit or prevent the investment needed to develop new infrastructures.

Opposing them were some Democrats, the biggest Web groups and Web-user protection associations, who retorted that if there is no minimum framework, the web as we know it today would be doomed to disappear, eaten away by prohibitive prices, massive obstacles to innovation, and risks to freedom of expression. These supporters of “neutrality” have mobilized in exceptional numbers in the last few months: Four million citizens have answered the FCC’s call to contribute. Also, in November 2014, they received decisive support from President Barack Obama, who called on the FCC to make the Internet public property.

What About Europe?

The decision that the American federal regulator took on Feb. 26 backed up these supporters. The FCC’s position fell firmly in favor of net neutrality in the USA, announcing a series of rules surrounding operators’ activities, which in future will prevent them from giving priority to certain content providers by making them pay more for better-quality access. This is a clear victory for supports of the principle that advocates that all content should circulate in the same way and at the same speed across the network, with neither privileges nor “fast tracks” for whoever is prepared to pay the price for it.

This decision is going in the right direction. It’s the first American state intervention in the history of the Internet, showing that public power won’t let the omnipresent digital revolution regulate itself without minimal common, fair and democratic rules. However, the FCC stopped short of being tempted to regulate the Internet. In fact, everyone knows the decision will have to contend with multiple appeals and challenge proceedings from its opponents.

But it will have more than just a symbolic impact. It shows that the American federal government can no longer remain distanced from the Internet: Just as the First Amendment to the American Constitution protects freedom of expression, net neutrality needs judicial recognition. Hopefully Europe, which is bogged down in differences between member states and slowed down by lobbying from telecommunications operators, will take inspiration from this.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply