A Major Challenge to European Net Neutrality

As is the case with many crucial liberties, the fight for network neutrality—the principle that preserves an open internet where everyone can build businesses, reach audiences and freely express themselves—is never truly over. It’s also important to remember that this fight is global. 

On October 27, the European Parliament (EP) rejected several proposed amendments that would have limited big Internet companies from playing favorites with legal online content. The vote followed two years of negotiations between the European Union’s 28 member states. The original law proposed by the EP in April 2014 was much stronger, but parliamentary procedure requires agreement between the EP, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union—a 28-minister body that disagreed with some key provisions and proposed new amendments that would undermine net neutrality. The law that was passed contains several loopholes that would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to establish tiered service offerings and potentially block content for those who don’t pony up. The most worrisome amendment allows for “specialized services” to have content delivered faster, but the language in the law is pretty broad overall. The newly passed law replaces existing NN rules in the Netherlands and Slovenia, and in effect will allow ISPs to create “internet fast lanes” for content providers with deep enough pockets. These rules may diminish access to information, expression and communication and impact everything from innovation to consumer privacy.

Stateside, the net neutrality battle has largely moved to the courts. However, the U.S. Congress is still poking at the issue. On the same day that the EU struck a blow to an open internet, a House subcommittee met to hear challenges to the approach implemented by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Under Title II of the Communications Act, the FCC is able to prevent ISPs from picking winners and losers online based on business—or even political—preferences.

As of February of this year, ISPs are currently classified under Title II. But big companies like Comcast and Verizon want to change that, claiming that they will not be able to invest in infrastructure without gouging content providers and consumers alike. However, evidence presented at the October hearinbg indicates otherwise: spending at major ISPs is up across the board, and investment in Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile increased during the last two quarters of 2014. (You can see more detailed ISP investment info here.) Without the protections that Title II affords, and despite what cable and telco lawyers and lobbyists say, net neutrality is the engine of the free market online.

Recently, FMC partnered with the Writers Guild of America, West and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture to file an amicus brief making the case for why creators benefit from an open internet that lets independents artists compete alongside the biggest companie. The brief, filed with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, urges the court to uphold the FCC’s Open Internet Order from February 2015. In the filing, we describe how these light-touch rules protect free speech in an increasingly digital world. For musicians and artists, the Order allows us to pursue our entreprenureal ambitions and engage with audiences without uneccesary interference.

America is in a better position than Europe on this issue, provided we don’t backslide. Future of Music Coalition and our artist allies will continue to be vigilant to ensure that today and tommorrow’s creators have a shot at reaching audiences and growing their careers on the Internet and around the world.

Image via shutterstock.com


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