domingo, 8 de marzo de 2015

Beyond #NetNeutrality (VI): Do we know which is the reality behind the headlines?

Many months without writing about net neutrality, but it is difficult to resist the temptation to continue the serie.

Due to an alignment of the stars, last week was the week of Net Neutrality at both sides of the Atlantic. On one hand, after the most successful public consultation on telecom matters, FCC announced its order on Net Neutrality. On the other hand, the EU Council announced its position towards Net Neutrality within the debate of the forthcoming regulation for the Telecom Single Market. It looks as if a great divide has opened between both sides of the Atlantic regarding its approach towards the Internet regulation. The US approach looks as a success for freedom activist while the EU approach as the rebirth of censorship and the triumph of corporations. Nevertheless, things are not so black and white as you may think.

Firstly, the European decision on the new interpretation of net neutrality is far from having been adopted. The position of the EU Council is only one step more towards the final decision. In the same manner that the decision of the EU Parliament adopted last April was another previous step. Now the Council and the Parliament has to started negotiations to reach a final consensus on the matter. The position of both sides are quite different and at the same time they have to negotiate the date and process for the end of roaming charges in Europe, so we cannot expect the real final decision before June.

Secondly, we do not know yet the decision of the FCC on Net Neutrality but what they have told us about the decision. At the time I´m writing this post (March 7th) the FCC has not yet published the complete order on Net Neutrality and it will take sometime yet. This is a policy matter and in policy matters sometimes is needed to discover the real story behind the marketing wrapping. Reading the statements of the commissioners who voted in favour and against the order is easy to find contradictions on the contains of the order. What is more, it is yet to see what are the details of the key concepts used in the order. For example, the definitions of "internet access service" and " data services do not go over the public Internet", the first will be under the net neutrality rules while the second not. Also we do not know details about how the FCC "will address questionable practices on a case-by-case basis". There are evidences that pointed towards the direction that this case-by-case analysis will be the backdoor to allowing specialised services over the Internet, which would mean that the position of the FCC and the EU Council would not be so different.

Thirdly, if there have been pressures from big companies in the policy-making process the pressures have existed on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of the European civic society groups has accused the members of the EU Council of adopting its approach towards net neutrality due to the fact that "the lobbying of their big national ex-monopolies is difficult to resist". Maybe it is true or maybe not. However, there are the same reasons to think that the FCC has adopted its decision due to the pressures of the GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook & Apple). This is even recognised by those who has fought in favour of an strict interpretation of the net neutrality principleThe different between both sides of the Atlantic is the actor of the digital value chain who is the potential guilty of the pressure.

As in any policy issue, regarding the net neutrality issue everybody has his own idea of which is the best approach. It is curious also that as in any other policy question both extremes of the debate argue in the similar manner in order to defend its position. In this case, for instance, they accused each other to propose a solution that stifles innovation. Therefore, we should not forget that net neutrality is no longer a technical question but a policy issue when we read the news. And as in any policy issue reality is far away from the headlines.

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