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EU: Digital Inquisition against an open Internet?

As Spain holds the rotating Presidency of the EU Council, it is currently defining a European strategy for the "Digital Agenda". A draft document regarding what Spain calls the "Granada Strategy" reveals unacceptable orientations toward handing the control of the Internet to telecoms operators, sacrificing Net neutrality.

Overall, the document seems crafted to please big telecoms operators like Telefónica. If carried on, the plan would represent a severe setback for the Internet ecosystem and users' rights all across Europe.

How to put an end to Net Neutrality in two lessons?

The text confusely tries to jusitify for telecoms operators to put an end to the principle of Net neutrality1. In a splendid trick of "newspeak", the text depicts online service providers, i.e all the ecosystem of actors that create and disseminate content, services and applications, "Internet intermediaries".

It then argues that online service providers benefit from an illegitimate free access to "consumers", and goes on to say that telecoms operators should be able to benefit from similar "cross-subsidies" to fund the deployment of very high-speed networks.

The aim of this trick is to turn telecoms operators into gatekeepers, and allow them to make content providers pay to avoid being slowed down. Such discrimination would amount to the end of the Internet's openness, allowing operators to control and differentiate access to online services by making business deals with specific content or service providers.

What about further privatizing public airwaves?

Under the term of "flexibility", the document calls for the actual privatization of the electro-magnetic spectrum, which is a limited public resource. It is proposed to lift restrictions imposed by public authorities to the telecoms operators using the spectrum, and to allow them to sell their licenses to third parties2.

Whereas new technologies now gives the opportunity to use the digital dividend to develop a truly free, open and shared wireless network3 the Spanish proposal would abandon the economic and social benefits of an open internet infrastructure for the sole interest of a few private actors.

Fake "user rights" confusing citizens with consumers

While most of the proposals would undermine citizens rights, the Spanish Presidency claims to protect them through a "European charter of rights for users of electronic communications service"4.

Ironically, this so-called "charter of rights" merely outlines contract protections: it is limited to transparency of information in contracts, cancellation of subscriptions, customer services, control over expenses, and other usual consumer rights protections.

This smokescreen tries to hide a blatant denial of the protections needed to guarantee the effectivity of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, such as the freedom of communication or the protection of privacy.

A plan for IPR enforcement

Although the draft contains sensible remarks regarding limitations and exceptions to copyright or collective licensing5, the text also makes a vague but worrying reference to IPR enforcement and the filtering of websites "that make possible the massive infringement of intellectual property rights".

This seems coherent with a project for a Council resolution calling for the continuation of the absurd "war on sharing" through the filtering of Internet content.

Even though the English translation from Spanish is not very good, parts of the draft are worth reading since they provide a glimpse of the Spanish Presidency's mindset regarding the future of the Internet infrastructure. But one thing is for sure: although the deployment of better broadband communications requires significant investments, the upgrade of our communications infrastructure should not be completed at the expense of a potentially enhanced citizenship, effective competition or innovation allowed by the network society.

"Such a conservative vision, driven by dominant special interests, will only lead Europe away from an innovative, competitive and inclusive knowledge society. It must absolutely be opposed by the Commission and the European Parliament as the EU moves forward with its Digital Agenda", concludes Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. Page 13-14: "The services employing the capacities of [next generation access networks] are expected to be major contributors to improve the economy and citizens welfare, so the rapid and extensive rollout of NGAs become an important policy objective in order to anticipate these benefits and to reduce the risks of digital divide, justifying the involvement of public administrations in the promotion of NGAs, including by means of public funds, to complement and accelerate rollouts in areas which are not commercially attractive for operators.
    This justifies an analysis of possible changes in the regulatory framework allowing service operators, in specific circumstances, to deploy business models based on two-sided markets, so they can internalize part of the revenues coming information services to finance the rollouts of new networks, and reducing the need for public aids.
    "
  • 2. Page 6: "The measures proposed in this plan include:
    - The introduction of greater flexibility in the use of the spectrum.
    - The provision to electronic communications operators with largest amount of available spectrum and with the least possible restrictive
    technical conditions.
    - Securing the implementation in the EU of the secondary trading of rights to use radio spectrum."
  • 3. Vinton Cerf, one of the Internet's main developers, is a big advocate of open spectrum. See: http://connectedplanetonline.com/connectedplanet/news/google-open-access-1201/
  • 4. See page 24.
  • 5. Page 31-32: it goes as far as mentioning "new solutions for easier, more affordable and user-friendly rights clearance for amateur users and the development of a new limitation for transformative uses which should be flexible, future-proof while consistent with the three-step test applicable to copyright limitations under the Berne Convention".
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Spanish_Presidency-Granada_Strategy.pdf2.66 MB