Following the US Example, Europe Must Act Now to Protect Net Neutrality

As the United States moves forward to guarantee Net Neutrality, the European Union is on the verge of passing a major reform of the telecommunications sector that contains provisions threatening the open, non-discriminatory nature of the Internet. If Europe were to adopt the telecom package as it stands now, it would risk further undermining its position as one of the top leaders of the information age.

Net neutrality is far from being a new topic in the United States' political debate. Several bills have been introduced in Congress to make sure to protect the value of the Internet for enhanced citizenship and more competitive, innovative markets. But each time, these attempts sparked aggressive lobbying campaigns on the part of telecoms corporations, which eventually led policy-makers to hear the cries of these influential companies and avoid any legislative intervention.

But the situation is rapidly changing. From the campaign trail to a speech he gave this past May, US President Barack Obama has relentlessly pledged to protect Net Neutrality, saying that he remains “firmly committed to Net Neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be - open and free”. Additionally the newly appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, has also reaffirmed his support to this progressive policy. Seizing the opportunity of this renewed political context, Congressman Edward Markey has introduced a new bill in the House of Representatives that seeks to protect Net Neutrality. The Internet Freedom Preservation Act would establish Net Neutrality in the law of the United States, once and for all1. The bill sees Net Neutrality as a necessary regulation “to ensure that the Internet remains an indispensable platform for innovation in the United States economy, thereby enabling the Nation to provide global leadership in online commerce and technological progress”. It also recognizes this principle as instrumental to the right of free speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Meanwhile, in a recent assessment of the i2010 E.U program the European Commission bemoans that “Europe is at risk of losing its competitive edge when it comes to new, innovative developments”. It also notes that Europe is lagging behind the United States in the development of innovative services and applications, notably the new interactive web. Yet, if the anti-Net Neutrality provisions currently contained in the Telecoms package were passed, the situation could dangerously aggravate. Telecom operators could asphyxiate potential competitors by discriminating against their products online. Similarly, they would further expand their ties with powerful content industries able and willing to pay in order to benefit from unfair priority on the communications networks. Such practices would stifle innovation and hinder the development of new efficient business models that fully rip the benefits of the digital economy. They would undermine diversity and pluralism in the new media ecosystem, which are fundamental characteristics of the Internet and represent a historical contribution to our democracies. And, as the United States moves towards establishing Net Neutrality, Europe risks falling further and further behind.

Therefore, despite the enormous political pressure not to reopen the negotiation on the telecoms package's worst provisions, EU lawmakers must take unequivocal action to protect Net Neutrality. If they fail to do so, European democracy and prosperity will be durably hurt.

  • 1. It gives a definition of Net Neutrality, stating in Section 12 a) that “it is the policy of the United States to protect the right of consumers to access lawful content, run lawful applications, and use lawful services of their choice on the Internet”