You may have noticed yesterday that some of our American cousins were getting excited about a speech made by Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, and a new Web site he announced: OpenInternet.gov. There you can either read his words, or watch a video of them. Either way, you will probably be struck by his constant harping on a theme dear to our heart: openness, and its importance to the Internet. Here's the key paragraph:
We Must Choose to Preserve the Open Internet
The rise of serious challenges to the free and open Internet puts us at a crossroads. We could see the Internet’s doors shut to entrepreneurs, the spirit of innovation stifled, a full and free flow of information compromised. Or we could take steps to preserve Internet openness, helping ensure a future of opportunity, innovation, and a vibrant marketplace of ideas.
I understand the Internet is a dynamic network and that technology continues to grow and evolve. I recognize that if we were to create unduly detailed rules that attempted to address every possible assault on openness, such rules would become outdated quickly. But the fact that the Internet is evolving rapidly does not mean we can, or should, abandon the underlying values fostered by an open network, or the important goal of setting rules of the road to protect the free and open Internet.
Saying nothing -- and doing nothing -- would impose its own form of unacceptable cost. It would deprive innovators and investors of confidence that the free and open Internet we depend upon today will still be here tomorrow. It would deny the benefits of predictable rules of the road to all players in the Internet ecosystem. And it would be a dangerous retreat from the core principle of openness -- the freedom to innovate without permission -- that has been a hallmark of the Internet since its inception, and has made it so stunningly successful as a platform for innovation, opportunity, and prosperity.
In view of these challenges and opportunities, and because it is vital that the Internet continue to be an engine of innovation, economic growth, competition and democratic engagement, I believe the FCC must be a smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open Internet.
This is pretty amazing stuff, coming as it does from the boss of the US communications regulatory agency. It shows how the concepts of openness have now entered the mainstream, and become part of the standard rhetoric. That's true of the UK, too, but what's lacking in this country is a clear commitment to preserve network neutrality, which is what the US announcement amounts to (albeit with some grey areas concerning “unlawful distribution of copyrighted works”.)
Maybe we need our own equivalent of the OpenInternet.gov site – either an OpenInternet.gov.uk or OpenInternet.eu perhaps. A online petition calling for a similar commitment has just been created (partly as the result of a Twitter conversation I took part in yesterday). Here's the basic idea:
This petition is up for signature in light of the decisions affecting the open Internet being taken at European level, and in reaction to the statement made in the USA on 21 September by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
If you believe Europe also merits an Internet that is free and open according to the following principles, please sign this petition and share it with your friends using the “Share it” links below:
1.Internet users are entitled to access, send and receive the content of their choice;
2.Internet users are entitled to use and run applications and services of their choice;
3.Internet users are entitled to connect their choice of software or hardware that do not harm the network;
4.Internet users are entitled to choice and competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers;
5.Internet users are entitled to an Internet connection that is free of discrimination with regard to type of application, service or content or based on sender or receiver address. Broadband providers cannot block or degrade traffic over their networks, or pick winners by favoring some content or applications over others in the connection to subscribers’ homes. Nor can they disfavor an Internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by them.
6.Providers of Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices and Internet users are entitled to an Internet connection with a predefined capacity and quality.
These principles should be enshrined in European and national laws, and enforced by the relevant authorities in a consistent manner across Europe.
So what do you think: are these the right principles for preserving an open Internet, or are there better ones?