Yesterday, the Netherlands became the first country in Europe to adopt laws that protect net neutrality. The rest of Europe, and indeed most the world, needs to follow suit before we sleepwalk into letting corporations use their deep pockets to gain an unfair advantage online.
The new Dutch legislation (translation here) was approved last summer, and blocks ISPs from slowing down or blocking traffic to specific websites or services, and from charging extra for access to certain websites or apps. It’s now been officially passed into law, as De Telegraaf reports [Dutch link].
This is important, as open access to the Web and everything it offers has been essential for driving innovation since Tim Berners-Lee brought the World Wide Web to life in 1991. The idea that you may pay less to an ISP for a connection that prioritizes its own video-on-demand service, for example, may sound innocuous enough, but it could potentially stop a new, competing service from gaining traction because its potential users get their connection speed throttled every time they try to access it.
This is what Jeff Jarvis coined “the Schminternet” – a version of the Internet sanitized by corporations to emphasize their own profit over user choice. He was specifically referring to a 2010 proposal between Google and Verizon to protect net neutrality on wired connections, while letting ISPs act how they wished when it came to mobile connections – however, the term works well in any situation where ISPs go from being neutral access providers to content gatekeepers.
Last year, the European Union’s Commissioner for Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes criticized the Dutch parliament’s approach, saying that lawmakers should wait to see how ISPs approach the issue before taking action. That may sound sensible enough, but without protective laws in place as soon as possible, consumers could well sleepwalk us into a situation where the Schminternet becomes the norm.
An ISP deal that bundles in access to its popular partners may sound great to someone who doesn’t do much exploring beyond those partners’ sites anyway, but if it strengthens the lead of big corporations over startups, we’d have to wait for lengthy antitrust investigations to play out before the balance was redressed – and that’s being optimistic. There is already the case of Comcast in the US, which is raising eyebrows by letting customers stream unlimited amounts of its own Xfinity video service to Xbox 360 consoles, while capping all other data.
De Telegraaf reports that the Netherlands is only the second country in the world after Chile to embed net neutrality into law, although it’s been a hotly debated topic in many other countries.
So, governments of the world – let’s get this thing moving, eh?