Is The U.S. Is Falling Behind When It Comes To Open Internet Rights?

Photo courtesy of Kristina Alexanderson via Flickr

A fight over open Internet laws and ISP regulations continues in the U.S, with the FCC expected to release their new “open Internet” proposal on Thursday, May 15.

All Internet traffic is not created equally. Or at least, not in America – currently, ISPs have control over Internet speed, so how fast we access content is dependent on companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

This is where the concept of net neutrality (which we explained previously here) comes into play. It’s essentially the concept that all Internet traffic is treated equally in term of speed, priority, and pay – the FCC‘s proposal for which was struck down in January 2014.

Open Internet in Brazil and the EU

But it’s not like this everywhere.

On April 23, 2014, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a law guaranteeing an open, private Internet for all.

The law, called Civil Law Marco Internet (but dubbed the Internet Bill of Rights by supporters) is a historic move that some say could lead the way for worldwide net neutrality.

It will ensure not only privacy from government surveillance, but equality to all websites in terms of speed and ISP priority, to the great dismay of telecom companies.

The EU favors net neutrality, too: a proposal that all data and services should be treated equally, without ISPs granting preference and speed to large companies, was voted in favor in April.

But in the United States, things are sticky – especially when you consider that popular streaming services like Netflix pay ISPs like Comcast a considerable amount of money for traffic accommodation

Netflix’ stance is that they’d prefer not to have to pay extra. But special agreements between others big companies and ISPs are anything but uncommon.

The FCC’s Open Internet negotiations

After the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initial proposal was thrown out, policies have been in a sort of chaotic limbo.

The FCC revised their proposal to encompass these rules:

  1. That all ISPs transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network
  2. That no legal content is blocked
  3. That ISPs not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.

The lack of elaboration on what constitutes as “commercially reasonable” has many concerned, with net neutrality advocates saying these new rules would harm smaller companies and entrepreneurs.

Further revisions are in the works that would ban many content companies’ “fast lane” deals with ISPs, or at least offering them equally to anyone willing to pay the price – we’ll know at the end of today.

Internet governance principles: the conversation begins

But what does all of this mean for the future of Internet rights?

When Brazil passed their Internet Bill of Rights, concerns were discussed at NetMundial in San Paolo, a meeting on future internet governance attended by 850 delegates from 80 nations.

But the summit’s final document did not take a stand on net neutrality, like Brazil’s Bill of Rights did. Wikileaks says the US stripped it of net neutrality reference intentionally – and the document also lacked any binding reference to NSA surveillance or the cyber-weapons arm race.

NetMundial says the summit’s conclusions lacked strength in these key ommissions, and urges that governments have a moral obligation to follow Brazil’s lead on enforcing what an open Internet truly means: privacy and equality for all, rather than what some are calling a pay-for-speed corporate Internet nightmare.

Stay tuned for updates on this topic by following @Curiousmatic on Twitter – we’ll be attending and observing the FCC protest in NYC as spectators.

Jennifer Markert