Government and trade officials are currently working on agreements that may affect your future Internet use. Some of the outcome may be good, some of it bad. Here’s a peek into some of these issues.
Net neutrality is the idea that there should be no discrimination among the content, sites, platforms and equipment used on the Internet. This means that Internet Service Providers like Comcast or Time Warner Cable shouldn’t favor certain Web sites and services over others with higher speeds. Net neutrality would also prevent Internet Service Providers from slowing download and upload speeds after a certain amount of use.
Proponents including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Open Internet Coalition are calling for Net neutrality legislation in the United States, saying it would protect consumers from unfair bandwidth practices committed by ISPs.
The Open Internet Coalition says on their Web site that Internet openness is “the fundamental principle of the Internet’s design. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re visiting a mainstream media website or an individual’s blog, sending emails or purchasing a song. The phone and cable companies that provide you with access to the Internet should route all traffic in a neutral manner…”
Opponents like NetCompetition.org, AT&T and other ISPs disagree with this stance, because they believe that a competitive marketplace could push for greater innovation and government control could lead to unforeseen consequences.
Right now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently drafting a set of rules for Net neutrality in the United States. While this may appear to be good news, some proponents fear that some of the rules will turn ISPs into policing authorities for copyright control.
The FCC, so far, will exclude “activities such as the unlawful distribution of copyrighted works” from the Internet openness principles they are devising. The Open Internet Coalition and EFF both oppose this exclusion and say that it could allow the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to interfere with Internet communications.
“In order to protect the free speech interests of Internet users, the Commission should reject copyright enforcement as ‘reasonable network management.’” The EFF said on their Deeplinks blog. “Copyright enforcement has nothing to do with the technical business of network management.”
On the other side of the ring, the RIAA is encouraging the FCC to continue with this exclusion in the new set of rules.
“The FCC should not only avoid rules prohibiting ISPs from blocking illegal file trading, but it should actively encourage ISPs to do so,” the RIAA recently said in a filing.
The EFF, Open Internet Coalition and other groups are hoping that the FCC will remove this exclusion, but there’s been no indication about what their next move will be.
As the FCC drafts rules for Net neutrality in America, several countries—including U.S., China, Canada and several more— have been meeting in secret over the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement, an international agreement designed to protect against the trade of counterfeit goods, including pirated material found online.
Most major news outlets have not covered the ACTA, and trade officials have made great efforts to keep their negotiations secret.
According to WikiLeaks.com, a Web site known for publishing leaked government and trade documents, some of the possible provisions for ACTA have been revealed. So far, they have been described by some critics, including Graeme Philipson of The Sydney Morning Herald, as “draconian.”
One of the “draconian” provisions would force ISPs to enforce a three-strike rule for alleged copyright infringement. After three strikes of alleged infringement, the user would have their Internet use terminated and their name would be circulated on a blacklist that would prevent other ISPs from giving said user Internet access.
In France, the three-strike law is on its way to being ratified, though it has recently stalled because of CNIL, a French agency designed to protect citizens from technology that can breach privacy and other rights. CNIL hasn’t approved the law because they are afraid of how the punishment procedure will work in practice.
Cory Doctorow, editor of BoingBoing.com and former European Affairs Coordinator of EFF, said that this three-strike rule could possibly remove Internet access from entire families because of one member’s infringement without any legal proceeding.
Another provision includes the right to search electronic devices for any pirated material, though many critics doubt this will ever be enacted because of its impracticality.
One of the major issues public interest groups like EFF have with ACTA is that there is no transparency with the current negotiations.
“It’s hard to imagine a more controversial set of IP topics — and underlying them all is the distinct lack of transparency attached to the entire process,” said Danny O’Brien on the EFF Deeplinks blog.
Right now, EFF is encouraging citizens to take action and Congress to bring transparency to ACTA. The secrecy is so bad that UK parliament members are being denied access to ACTA documents. If your friends and family don’t know about this trade agreement, now is the time to educate.
Correction: The article erroneously mentioned and quoted the Open Internet Foundation in the Net Neutrality section. None of the quotes or stances reflect this organization. Instead, they reflect that of the Open Internet Coalition. The article has been edited in reflection of this mistake.