As I noted at the end of last week, there is yet another attack on EU net neutrality underway. Here's a further indication that this is part of a concerted action: a new site called "Make the Net Work for Europe" has popped up. Behind it are most of the major EU telecoms companies: Alcatel-Lucent, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Liberty Global, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera and Vodafone. The top-line message:
1. We are committed to maintaining an open Internet and to treating providers of similar content and services in a non-discriminatory manner, provided that they are legally and fairly offered according to Europe’s laws.
2. We are committed to providing a range of services at different levels of quality and price, in order that all sectors of European industry can maximise their commercial opportunities from advanced services, and to providing affordable Internet services for consumers to help eliminate the digital divide.
3. We are committed to protecting our customers’ privacy and security, providing the best possible safeguard to European citizens and the assets and information of European enterprises.
The last of these is of course meaningless, since companies operating in Europe will be obliged to store all kinds of metadata, and to hand it over to the police and security services when requested. The first is interesting, because it only offers to treat "similar content and services in a non-discriminatory manner", which still allows for discrimination *between* services. As that makes clear, this would destroy net neutrality, since different IP packets would be treated differently.
The second point confirms this: it is essentially about specialised services which create fast lanes for certain traffic while necessarily relegating everything else to the slow lane. Again, that goes against net neutrality, and would allow deep-pocketed companies to disadvantage and destroy start-ups with more limited resources. Other pages provide more insights into the thinking. Here's the pitch for the wonderful world those specialised services will usher in:
The Make the Net Work Alliance is committed to providing a range of services at different levels of quality and price, in order that all sectors of European industry can maximise the commercial opportunities from advanced services. The deployment of high-speed connections across the region is stimulating developments that will revolutionise human-to-human interactions in the years to come.
As examples, it lists ambient presence, secure home solutions, remote care, online education and training, ubiquitous HD videoconferencing and advanced work collaboration. However, there's a price to pay for this bounty:
The factors common to the success of all of these new services are the stringent requirements for seamless access, high quality of experience, high-bandwidth availability, and the security and privacy of any information shared. These represent a profoundly different set of parameters to those that characterise today’s best-effort Internet service, which offers open access to any application, but cannot guarantee the quality of experience, especially when multiple networks are involved.
This is nonsense. Security and privacy have nothing to do with the provision of specialised services. They can be provided for any connection using strong encryption in transit, and good design for the end points.
Moreover, all these specialised services would be provided using the same connection as today's Internet - unless telecoms are thinking of building a second, parallel network, which seems unlikely. If it is possible to guarantee the bandwidth and latency required for such services, these can be made available to all services too if net neutrality is observed. In order to guarantee them for a particular service, all the customer needs to do is to stop using the others.
So what can we do to fight off this well-financed attack on Net neutrality? EDRi.org has dusted off its Save the Internet site that was used to fight for Net neutrality last time. It outlines four requirements for EU policy in this area:
1. All data should be treated equally. Enshrining net neutrality is the only way to ensure that the internet will remain an open platform for innovation and a mechanism for the fostering of human rights.
2. Network discrimination must be outlawed: The establishment of a tiered internet must be prevented.
3. No anti competitive agreements: The EU should guarantee an online environment where competition and innovation can thrive.
4. No censorship: Content decisions are made by a competent judicial authority subject to transparency and public oversight - not corporations, who do not have the capacity to be judge, jury, and police.
It also invites EU citizens to give their name and email in order to send a quick message to the Council of EU ministers who will make the decision *tomorrow*. So there's not much time, but adding your name should take about 15 seconds - not too much to ask, I think, if it gives us a chance of saving Net neutrality in the EU (again).