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La Quadrature answers survey about an open Net

La Quadrature du Net publishes its answers to the survey by about an open Internet infrastructure, and invites its NGO supports to engage themselves as well in this reflection about such crucial questions.

Question 1: What does the concept of openness mean to your organisation and your work?

La Quadrature du Net is an organization involved in public-policy debates at the French and European Union levels in order to protect the fundamental rights of the citizen in the digital environment. An important part of La Quadrature's action consists in providing citizens with a variety of tools that enable them to understand and participate in these debates.

The openness of the communications infrastructure implied by the concept of network neutrality is central to our advocacy work. Network neutrality has made the Internet the formidable technology that we know today. At the heart of the development of this technology is the idea that society as a whole benefits from the free circulation of knowledge. In that regard, the Internet’s open architecture aims at guaranteeing the free movement of information through our communications infrastructures (see question 2). It is only by maintaining this principle of openness that the rights and freedoms of citizens in the digital environment - both as producers and users of informational goods - will develop and flourish (see question 3).

Network neutrality is the essential guarantee for competition, innovation, and fundamental freedoms on the Internet.

Question 2: What is, according to you, an open communications infrastructure?

An open communications infrastructure is developed and used according to the concept of network neutrality. Net neutrality relies on the principle that network management should be free of restrictions or limitations regarding contents, applications and services, or the kind of device that may be attached to the network. No discrimination should be made based on the identity of the sender, of the recipient or the nature of the transmitted information. Net neutrality thus guarantees that the flow of information that runs trough the communications architecture is neither blocked nor degraded by telecommunications operators (except for security reasons, when the network is under attack), so that end-users can freely and efficiently make use of the network.

The principle of openness, at the root of the development of the network, is undoubtedly economically viable and coheres with current infrastructure management practices. It is indeed a core element of the regulatory schemes that apply to other infrastructure commons1, such as transportation networks or energy grids. It is clear that given what is at stake - citizen’s rights and economic development (see question 3)- regulators are legitimate in imposing public interest requirements like net neutrality onto telecommunications operators. The strategic role of broadband networks largely justifies that the architecture of such networks may not respond solely to the telecoms operators’ commercial logic. It is all the more obvious when one considers, for instance, the various public funds aimed at supporting broadband deployment (see for example, the subsidies granted for high speed Internet lines in rural areas included in both EU and national recovery plans2).

Question 3: How does openness affect citizenship and competition in the European Union?

The result of more than 25 years of technological innovation, the wide spread of communication and computations capacities in developed countries is having deep structural consequences in our societies. As every citizen or business-oriented organization can now rely on the openness of the Internet to perform their activities, the production and the circulation of information, knowledge and culture are being democratized. The barriers to entry are sufficiently lowered for people to participate more fully into the social, economical and political life. However, for these new modes of participation to thrive, Internet users – whether citizens or businesses - have to retain a set of rights and freedom, which are partly preserved through keeping the network open. The very possibility of users to participate to building Internet, is guaranteed by a neutral Internet that won't discriminate them from uploading content.

In return, openness will enhance citizens freedom by allowing them to engage in the production of the cultural goods that surround us, which are today mostly controlled by the handful of corporations involved in the media industries. In that respect, net neutrality can achieve a fuller conception of free speech, as the French Constitutional Council asserted in its decision against the HADOPI law implementing “three strikes” policy against file-sharing3. Finding that the law disrespected the 1789 “Declaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen”, the Council stressed that free access to the Internet has become essential for the proper execise of the freedom of expression and communication. By doing so, the constitutional judges implicitly recognized that an open Internet provides us with the opportunity to deepen people’s freedom and autonomy, and therefore improves democratic processes.

Also, net neutrality allows for more efficient markets, in which information is not held back by a few companies. The concept of “innovation without a permit”, where every small actor can innovate and compete with the incumbent giants is the root of the development of Internet as we know it today. Studies show that these new market structures facilitate innovation and competition, as economic actors take advantage of the communications network to launch new services4. Incumbent actors in the media and the telecom industries have an obvious interest in perpetuating their control over information and communication networks, and try to do so by, for instance, engaging in overt “wars” against file-sharing5, or by banning innovative VOIP applications from mobile telecommunications services6. These actors thereby attempt to avoid competition in order to protect their dominance on these markets without having to adapt their business-models. However, it should be clear that it makes no sense for public policy to support such endeavors.

It is evident that society as a whole benefits from an open network. Of course, we need to find ways of funding the deployment of better broadband communications, which require significant investments. But the upgrade of our communication infrastructure should not be completed at the expense of a potentially enhanced citizenship, effective competition or innovation. The derogations to the principle of net neutrality should remain as minimal as possible, and rely exclusively on unequivocal public interest objectives.

  1. 1. For an assessment of the socio-economic benefits of open-access provisions in infrastructure commons regulation, see this paper by Brett M. Frischmann.
  2. 2. The EU recovery plan unveiled in January 2009 provides €1 billion for rural broadband.
  3. 3. Decision rendered on June 10th, 2009.
  4. 4. A thorough overview of the way new networked technologies transform markets is offered in The Wealth of Networks, by Yochai Benkler.
  5. 5. For an analysis of the disastrous consequences of such copyright enforcement, see Op-Ed by American legal scholar Lawrence Lessig.
  6. 6. Such strategy is being pursued by telecom operators like Orange and O2 in Europe or AT&T in the United States. These companies have unilaterally decided to disable the use of the Skype iPhone application over their 3G networks.