European Parliament votes 534 to 25 for network neutrality

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Here in Canada, our idea of a free and open Internet is being held hostage by the CRTC. Its TV Talks consultation makes it very clear that a non-discriminatory Internet is going to continue to play backseat to our quaint, moribund notion of TV culture – which Ottawa thinks is still holding the country together from sea to shining sea.

In a far more vociferous debate on net neutrality, the US open Internet community has been pitted against the outré posturings of many Republicans, who want their government to stay in the business of regulating the Internet through ICANN, but condemn the FCC’s latest attempt to revive its Open Internet Order as a form of censorship, an innovation killer and a solution in search of a problem. The Republicans have ingeniously, and disingenuously, co-opted the the whole notion of a free and open Internet in their current lingo, while winning headline battles by turning every attempt to protect innovation, free speech and access to bandwidth as part of the unspeakable idea of… gasp, regulating the Internet!

PilardelCastilloVera-1Meanwhile, earlier today, the European Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to pass the report tabled by member Pilar del Castillo Vera of Spain that outlines a strong, unambiguous framework for protecting EU citizens from unwarranted discrimination on the Internet. The European support for net neutrality, which may still wait months for endorsement by member nations, is dripping with irony. (The release page is here, excerpt below.)

First of all, ever since the NTIA announced its intention to cede control of ICANN and the IANA functions associated with operation of the Domain Name System, American jingoists of every stripe have been hysterical about letting other countries grab the master switch and doom the Internet to single-country rule – or rule by a small cluster of autocratic nations like Russia, Iran and China. Advocates on both sides of the ICANN imbroglio keep bleating about how they know best. Either the proposed transition will promote the Internet’s future or opposing it will. Over in Brussels, 534 of the 617 parliamentarians – i.e. 87% – voted for neutrality, un point c’est tout. This initiative is far more likely to promote the health of the global Internet than a lot of tinkering with the fine print in the ICANN contract.

(Which contract ain’t going to change the world much, not unless Larry Strickling and the NTIA are swallowed up by global warming. In my next post, I’m going to reveal some startling information about the ICANN issue, based in part on the public discussion paper I wrote for Industry Canada on DNS reform in 1998. Teaser: the USG promised unequivocally in 1998 that it was going to a) get out of the DNS business; b) privatize the whole thing; c) implant a multi-stakeholder model; and d) make the international community feel welcome. After 16 years, not a single one of those four goals has been achieved, even in part.)

ntiaSecond, the whole NSA mess has besmirsched America’s reputation abroad and made their biggest tech firms worry about losing business. The NTIA announcement, whatever else Strickling says it is, was clearly prompted by the felt need to appease the Europeans. They are now offering the world an honest attempt at implementing a meaningful version of net neutrality. If the US government wants to win back good will, it’s going to have to get its own neutrality house in order – exactly the opposite of what Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) said in the House yesterday to Strickling (paraphrase: if you want to lose ICANN, better tell the FCC to lose neutrality first).

Third, and as if the battle isn’t tough enough, the Netflix/Comcast deal means the Americans have to wait on the lawyers to sort out whether certain network interconnections should be brought within the orbit of the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding. Even the FCC doesn’t seem to know the answer to that. In his press conference on Tuesday, Chairman Wheeler said that “peering and interconnection are not under consideration in the Open Internet proceeding.” But as The Verge adds:

Confusingly, at the same time, the agency also said that it was considering new rules to regulate the paid arrangements between companies like Comcast and Netflix.

I’m just guessing, but it seems the FCC is trying to distance itself from any talk of regulating the traditional peering market (over 99% of which operates on handshake deals, according to the 2012 OECD digital economy paper by Weller and Woodcock), while leaving the door open for the new brand of paid peering embodied by the Netflix/Comcast consummation. Well, at least the FCC is talking about these issues.

Excerpt from the Euro-Parliament press release

Here’s part of what was said today about the European vote. Notice the language (which is not official) makes room, as we do in Canada, for legitimate network management issues. But unlike our scheme, this framework starts from the premise that online behavior should be non-discriminatory – not the premise that the incumbents need help managing network congestion. We’ll see how this noble effort fares in the real world later this year.

MEPs want clear rules to prevent internet access providers from promoting some services at the expense of others. EU telecoms regulator BEREC reported that several internet access providers were blocking or slowing down services like “Skype”, which is used to make phone calls over the internet.

Internet access providers would still be able to offer specialized services of higher quality, such as video on demand and business-critical data-intensive “cloud” (data storage) applications, so long as these services are not supplied to “the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services” offered to other companies or service suppliers.

MEPs shortened the European Commission’s list of “exceptional” cases in which internet access providers could still be entitled to block or slow down the internet. MEPs say these practices should be permitted only to enforce a court order, preserve network security or prevent temporary network congestion. If such “traffic management measures” are used, they must be “transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate” and “not be maintained longer than necessary”, they add.

MEPs underline that internet access should be provided in accordance with the principle of “net neutrality”, which means that all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application.

D.E.