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Another Telecom Attack on Network Neutrality to Grab Profits and Suppress Free Speech—International Edition

December 6th, 2012
There's a conference in Dubai which is only now breaking out in the news. It's a conference to discuss a 25-year-old international treaty on how the Internet works worldwide. These people talk about how they only want to increase access to people in the third world, and make the Internet better for everyone:
“The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely [the] rich world's privilege, ” said Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN's International Telecommunications Union, ahead of the meeting. “ITU wants to change that.”
The people running the show claim they're not doing any harm:
Gary Fowlie, head of ITU liaison Office to the United Nations, insisted in a phone interview that his organization's effort to revise outdated telecom rules is not an attempt to change the way the Internet is governed. “This whole idea there would be some kind of restriction on freedom of expression, it just doesn't fly with what the ITU has stood for,” he said, stressing that as a U.N. entity, the ITU is bound to uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to free expression through any media.
Sounds great, until you realize that “ITU” stands for “International Telecommunication Union.” That right away should be a giveaway. The next hint:
But the [ITU] said action was needed to ensure investment in infrastructure to help more people access the net.
Red flag time! Hear those alarm bells and sirens going off? Any of this sound familiar? “We want to help people get access to the Internet. That requires infrastructure.” This is the inevitable preface to the next statement: “We need money to do that. Let's talk about how we can make more money.” And thus we arrive at the actual motive behind the lobbying, and upon closer inspection, find the justifications to be specious. Yep. It's just like when the U.S. Telecoms tried to gang up and buy their way to Internet ownership in the U.S. Virtually nothing is different: the telecoms are whining about how they're losing so much money because of the big, bad Internet:
Some telecommunications companies are looking at WCIT as an opportunity to address the business reality that new technologies are severely eroding traditional revenues from old-style voice calls. Customers are no longer making phone calls as they once did, and are instead using an application layer on the Internet to carry voice and video. Landline services are increasingly being replaced with mobile communications services that are themselves increasingly being used to provide data connectivity. Beyond voice, the companies argue that large content providers are making revenue from customers’ access to those services over their Internet connections. So these companies see this treaty as a way to “re-balance” revenue streams between carriers and “over-the-top” providers. Claiming that regulatory help is needed to ensure the ongoing investment in the Internet’s infrastructure, they have dusted off an old concept known in telecom circles as “sending network pays.” On its face, the idea is simple: The network or ISP of the sending party should pay for the delivery of their traffic (just as with cross-border telephone calls).
That's the same bullshit argument made by the U.S. telecoms, the billionaire's cry of poverty. “We're losing revenue from people using Skype instead of making international phone calls, so we need to make up the money somewhere else.” What a complete load of crap. As if these people are not making huge profits on all-new revenue streams in several different areas, many of which derive specifically from the Internet usage they now claim cannibalizes their revenues. Let's see. I pay for my Internet connection—a monthly fee which easily exceeds, by quite a bit, what I used to pay for my traditional land line. I also pay for cell phone use—in fact, I pay, in a way, for no fewer than three different Internet connections, one the aforementioned home connection, and two more times for the data plans for my wife's and my own cell phone plans. Each of which costs about the same. Repeat this throughout the entire world, and you begin to understand that the telecoms have never had it better. If they want to cry poverty, I demand they first cough up their balance sheets for close inspection. Because I will bet you quite a bit that their profit line is probably not very far behind Big Oil and Big Pharma. Once again, they try to make it all sound more palatable by saying they are going after big corporations:
One of the other concerns raised is that the conference could result in popular websites having to pay a fee to send data along telecom operators' networks. The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (Etno) - which represents companies such as Orange, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom - has been lobbying governments to introduce what it calls a “quality based” model. This would see firms face charges if they wanted to ensure streamed video and other quality-critical content download without the risk of problems such as jerky images. Etno says a new business model is needed to provide service providers with the “incentive to invest in network infrastructure”.
Again, the same bullshit argument they made in the U.S. 6 years ago. And it's still full of crap. They already have all the incentive they need to expand infrastructure. They already have huge profits. The content providers who send bandwidth-intensive content already pay for sending this data, as do the users who consume it. And we have seen before when Telecoms make promises to expand infrastructure in exchange for the ability to charge more, and they never do what they promise. What they really want here is virtual ownership of the Internet. They want to be able to wring every last penny, yen, pound, and deutschmark that they possibly can by charging for something, then charging for it again, and then charging someone else for the same thing as many times as they can manage. Piggybacking this wave are governments scared shitless over the freedom of expression the Internet represents and the threat this is to their control over their populaces, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by people who know the Internet better than anyone—like Vint Cerf, co-creator of the TCP/IP protocol and regarded as one of the “fathers of the Internet,” who wrote this message of warning:
Today, this free and open net is under threat. Some 42 countries filter and censor content out of the 72 studied by the Open Net Initiative. This doesn't even count serial offenders such as North Korea and Cuba. Over the past two years, Freedom House says governments have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression. Some of these governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting of The International Telecommunication Union that opens on December 3 in Dubai to further their repressive agendas. Accustomed to media control, these governments fear losing it to the open internet. They worry about the spread of unwanted ideas. They are angry that people might use the internet to criticize their governments. The ITU is bringing together regulators from around the world to renegotiate a decades-old treaty that was focused on basic telecommunications, not the internet. Some proposals leaked to the WICITLeaks website from participating states could permit governments to justify censorship of legitimate speech -- or even justify cutting off internet access by reference to amendments to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs).
Cerf then urges us to remain vigilant against those in power corrupting one of the most invaluable advances in communications and freedom of expression in human history:
A state-controlled system of regulation is not only unnecessary, it would almost invariably raise costs and prices and interfere with the rapid and organic growth of the internet we have seen since its commercial emergence in the 1990s. The net's future is far from assured and history offers much warning. Within a few decades of Gutenberg's creation, princes and priests moved to restrict the right to print books. History is rife with examples of governments taking actions to “protect” their citizens from harm by controlling access to information and inhibiting freedom of expression and other freedoms outlined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We must make sure, collectively, that the internet avoids a similar fate.
Indeed. Let me reiterate something I feel is very important: the Internet is the single most important advancement in communications technology in the history of the human race. More important than the printing press, more important than radio and television. Why? Because the Internet is the first human technology which allows worldwide dissemination of speech and ideas which is not controlled by the wealthy. Before the Internet, if you wanted to speak beyond the reach of your own voice, if you wanted to deliver an idea beyond just the few people you have contact with, if you wanted to speak to more people than you could gather in a local public place—you had to beg at the feet of the Gatekeepers. The Gatekeepers are the ones who used to control communication. They are the publishers and the regulators. They are the wealthy and empowered who controlled all means of publishing content. Want to write a book? Not unless we say so, and thanks, we'll keep almost all the profits for ourselves. Want to speak over a network? Not unless you can make us big profits, or lend a popular or sympathetic face and voice to opinions we wish to propagate. Much of this was justified by the expense of said networks. Publishing books and building broadcasting networks isn't cheap, and the available resources were few. So there was not much complaint about the lack of freedom to communicate. However, the Internet changed all that. This blog can be accessed worldwide—and I don't have to pay much to publish it. I can write almost anything I want, within reasonable law, and within seconds, people in Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Israel can read it. I pay about $10 a year for the domain name, and maybe $100 a year for hosting; I could get cheaper pricing than that, or I could pay nothing and instead have a blog hosted by Wordpress or some other blogging service. This ability to speak to the world has never before existed. That is a greatly unappreciated fact of the Internet: how it has opened the doors to potentially anyone in the world communicating with a large portion of humanity, openly, freely, instantly, and (usually) cheaply. A freedom and availability that would be threatened if the ITU got what they wanted. So pay no mind to the weeping billionaires and multinationals, or the angry dictators fearful of losing control. Disregard the claims of the super-rich telecoms crying poverty and claiming they only want to give fiber-optic to children in Africa. Ignore the claims of sock puppets for dictators that no one is trying to squelch freedom of expression. Recognize these for the obfuscation, distortions, and lies that they are. And whenever possible, write to your legislatures: give the Internet to the Telecoms, we will vote you out. Threaten free speech over the Internet, and we will overthrow you. We have only just received this freedom, and we refuse to surrender it.

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