The post below is an open letter to European citizens, lawmakers and regulators, from our founder and Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Professor Barbara van Schewick, and Professor Larry Lessig. Join the conversation in the comments below or on Twitter using #savetheinternet or #netneutrality.
We have four days to save the open Internet in Europe
By Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Professor Lawrence Lessig, and Professor Barbara van Schewick
Network neutrality for hundreds of millions of Europeans is within our grasp. Securing this is essential to preserve the open Internet as a driver for economic growth and social progress. But the public needs to tell regulators now to strengthen safeguards, and not cave in to telecommunications carriers’ manipulative tactics.
We are so close. In October, the European Parliament voted on network neutrality rules for the European Union. Now regulators are writing guidelines to determine how the law will be applied in practice. These guidelines could secure net neutrality in Europe – if regulators use them to close potential loopholes in the law.
Telecom companies know this. And so they are lobbying hard to get regulators to adopt weak guidelines that would benefit their businesses over the public interest. They have connections to the highest levels of EU governments, a well-oiled lobbying machine, and lots of money to pay lawyers and experts to write extensive comments. Their latest move came last Wednesday, when the 17 largest telecom companies in Europe threatened not to invest in the next generation of 5G mobile networks unless regulators water down the guidelines.
We – the ordinary users of the Internet – don’t have expensive lobbyists. But we have millions of people – everyday Europeans, startups, investors, small businesses, activists, NGOs, bloggers, independent artists – who have experienced the power of the open Internet first hand and want to protect it.
That’s where you come in. For a few more days, until July 18, the public has an opportunity to comment on the guidelines and convince regulators to close loopholes and protect the open Internet in Europe.
The Internet has become the critical infrastructure of our time – for our daily life, for our economy, for our democracy. Strong guidelines will protect the future of competition, innovation, and creative expression in Europe, enhancing Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy. They will ensure that every European, no matter the color of their skin or the size of their wallets, has an equal chance to innovate, compete, speak, organize, and connect online.
If we speak up now, we can convince regulators to do the right thing.
Here’s what you can do to help.
Spread the Word:
Share this post and others on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else, using #savetheinternet and/or #netneutrality.
Talk with your friends, colleagues, and family and ask them to take action.
If you are a blogger or journalist, write about what is going on.
If you are an entrepreneur or investor, review and sign the entrepreneurs’ letter.
If you have a blog or a website, protest Internet slow lanes by adding a widget to your site.
There are four areas that regulators need to get right to secure meaningful net neutrality in Europe.
- BAN FAST LANES: Regulators need to close a loophole that could allow carriers to offer special “fast lanes” to normal websites and applications for a fee.
The telecom companies that connect us to the Internet want the power to charge websites extra fees to reach people faster. In a world where some websites can pay telcos to be in the “fast lane,” anyone who can’t afford the extra fees – start-ups, small businesses, bloggers, artists, activists, and everyday Europeans – will be left behind in the slow lane. Innovation and economic growth will suffer, and Europeans will be left with an Internet that is less vibrant, less diverse, and less useful.
Europe’s net neutrality law stops telecom carriers from creating fast lanes online. But it contains an exception for “specialized services” that cannot work on the regular Internet. Carriers want to squeeze as much of a pay-to-play business model as they can into this exception, turning it into a giant loophole. Their stated goal: A world in which any application can buy a fast lane – not just those that could not function without it.
Regulators need to close this loophole by clarifying that the “specialized services” exception cannot be used to create fast lanes for normal Internet content. And they should regularly review what qualifies as a specialised service – remember that in the not too distant past, everyday services like web-based email or online video would have been seen as a specialized service!
- BAN ZERO-RATING: Regulators need to ban harmful forms of zero-rating.
Carriers want to be able to exempt certain favored applications from users’ monthly data caps, a practice called “zero-rating”.
Like fast lanes, zero-rating lets carriers pick winners and losers by making certain apps more attractive than others. And like fast lanes, zero-rating hurts users, innovation, competition, and creative expression. In advanced economies like those in the European Union, there is no argument for zero-rating as a potential onramp to the Internet for first-time users.
The draft guidelines acknowledge that zero-rating can be harmful, but they leave it to national regulators to evaluate zero-rating plans on a case-by-case basis. Letting national regulators address zero-rating case-by-case disadvantages Internet users, start-ups, and small businesses that do not have the time or resources to defend themselves against discriminatory zero-rating before 28 different regulators.
The guidelines need a comprehensive, Europe-wide ban on harmful forms of zero-rating.
- BAN DISCRIMINATION: Regulators need to prevent carriers from discriminating among classes of traffic to manage their networks.
Carriers would like to define classes of traffic to be sped up or slowed down, even in the absence of congestion. They say this will let them offer better quality Internet access. But class-based traffic management lets carriers discriminate against services at will. It allows carriers to distort competition, stifle innovation, and hurt users and providers who encrypt by putting all encrypted traffic in the slow lane.
The draft guidelines make clear that class-based traffic management can only be used as a last resort during exceptional or temporary congestion if less discriminatory methods cannot solve the problem. This is good, and ensures that the Internet remains a level playing field even during times of severe congestion.
But the guidelines are less clear for traffic management in the absence of congestion. This ambiguity could be misused as a loophole to allow carriers to discriminate in the name of addressing problems admittedly less severe than congestion, where discrimination can only be used as a last resort.
The draft guidelines should clarify that class-based traffic management can be used only if less discriminatory, application-agnostic methods cannot solve the problem, regardless of whether there is congestion or not.
- PROTECT INTERNET ACCESS: Regulators need to prohibit new “specialized” services from taking over bandwidth that people bought to access the Internet.
Carriers want to offer new kinds of “specialized” services that need special handling not available on the Internet. People would buy these services separately, in addition to their normal Internet access. Carriers find these services attractive because they can charge the providers of these services extra fees for special treatment.
The draft guidelines allow these specialized services to take away bandwidth from people’s Internet connection. In essence, telecom companies would take bandwidth that a customer bought to connect to the Internet and use it for a specialized service that the same person (and, potentially, the providers of these services) is paying for separately. That means people signing up for a specialized service would pay twice for the same bandwidth, and would have less bandwidth available for the websites and Internet apps of their choice. This harms people signing up for a specialized service, and makes it harder for Internet applications, content, and services to reach consumers.
The current version of the guidelines directly contradicts the law, which requires that specialized services be offered in addition to access to the Internet and must not reduce the quality of normal Internet access. Regulators need to correct the guidelines.
. . .
Telecom regulators can still protect net neutrality in Europe – if they make the key changes described above. We urge regulators to make these changes. And we urge you to contact those regulators before July 18th and let them know the public supports strong network neutrality guidelines.
We have four days to save the open Internet in Europe. Let’s use them.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and founding director of the World Wide Web Foundation
Professor Lawrence Lessig, author of “Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace” and Professor of Law, Harvard University
Professor Barbara van Schewick, author of “Internet Architecture and Innovation” and Professor of Law and (by courtesy) Electrical Engineering, Stanford University