EU laws already protect the open Internet: let’s enforce them now to stop the rise of the ‘unternets’

There’s a sign in a street near the Skype office which reads: I can’t understand why people are afraid of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones. I like that. It is actually indicative of some of the things we witness in the world of Internet access today: a desire by some to change the Internet to lots of little old-style ‘unternets’, away from the current openness where anyone can put their opinion, apps, services online, and anyone can access these, whether on fixed or mobile devices, without asking prior permission from anyone.

Last Thursday I was in Brussels at the EU Net Neutrality Summit where I explained this: the open character of the Internet is the fundamental reason and foundation behind all the benefits derived from the advent of the Internet over the past twenty years by users – citizens, society and the economy.

But we see restrictions being put in place arbitrarily by some mobile operators in Europe on what end-users can do online; and what innovators can do online. These restrictions could lead us away from the open Internet towards the emergence of several separate subnets – what I think of as ‘unternets’: that is, a net with video, another net for voice over IP but not video, another net for news and email but not VoIP and gaming, an extensive Internet for those that can afford to pay a lot, or a very basic net with only a few chosen apps and websites for those that cannot pay enough — in short, a situation which would considerably diminish the economic and social utility of the Internet, and would reinforce the digital divide.

Fortunately in Europe, we already have basic legislation to protect the open Internet and net neutrality. EU telecom law revised in 2009 includes a policy principle to foster the open Internet, transparency requirements so that consumers will know what access they’re really buying, and powers for regulators to take action against those network operators that restrict the open Internet. That’s on top of a long-standing rule protecting end to end connectivity. Continue reading …

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