Thursday, May 6, 2021

What Europe’s ‘Save the Internet’ Movement Was All About

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.

In 2013, thousands of Internet users across Europe banded together for the ‘Save the Internet’ movement aimed at maintaining net neutrality. Four years later in 2016, the movement succeeded in achieving its goals, with the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) establishing strict guidelines to protect Internet freedom.

Save the Internet

To understand what the Save the Internet movement stood for, you need to first know what net neutrality is. In simple terms, net neutrality is a principle according to which Internet access providers are required to serve its customers without discriminating on the basis of the type, origin, or destination of data. As such, telecom operators are not allowed to block or degrade applications, services, or content. This ensures that all people have equal access to the Internet.

Without net neutrality, you would have to pay a higher fee for the Internet, as well as for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that acts as a gatekeeper between you and the services. Startups will find it difficult to provide better quality service to their users since the telecom operators will prioritize high speeds for the big corporates who will pay a fee for such special treatment. In 2013, the European Commission proposed a law for net neutrality. Internet Service Providers lobbied for three exclusions — specialized services, traffic management, and zero-rating.

Without net neutrality, you would have to pay a higher fee for the Internet, as well as for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that acts as a gatekeeper between you and the services. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Specialized service refers to any service offered through the Internet that is given an additional quality boost by the ISP. Traffic management enables ISPs to prioritize the traffic to some websites and applications while reducing the speed of others. Zero-rating would allow the ISP to have influence as to which apps people use by discounting the data that they download from certain services and apps. Since people are likely to use such discounted apps to save money, ISPs will essentially be able to promote the apps of their choice. Put together, these three loopholes would have made net neutrality impossible in Europe. This is when millions of people across the EU joined the “Save the Internet” campaign and made their voices heard.

In 2016, Europe plugged these three loopholes, thereby ensuring that the Internet would treat everyone equally. The provisions were published by BEREC, which prohibited ISPs from slowing down Internet traffic except under special provisions like complying with a legal order, managing congestion, ensuring network integrity, and so on. The interest in protecting net neutrality was so widespread that even the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, wrote a joint letter with a few other notable personalities, asking that European regulators protect the open nature of the Internet.

“Strong guidelines will protect the future of competition, innovation, and creative expression in Europe, enhancing Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy… They will ensure that every European, no matter the color of their skin or the size of their wallets, has an equal chance to innovate, compete, speak, organize, and connect online,” the letter said, according to The Verge.

COVID-19 effect

The outbreak of COVID-19, being an exceptional circumstance, allows ISPs to implement traffic management measures in order to avoid or minimize congestion. Data gathered by BEREC shows that Internet traffic on both fixed lines and mobiles has surged during the outbreak. However, no major congestion has taken place except for some isolated local incidents.

The COVID-19 outbreak might cause traffic congestion, allowing ISPs to indulge in traffic management. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

If serious congestion were to develop, ISPs would have to follow the guidelines set up by BEREC when managing the traffic. This ensures that the ISPs do not utilize the opportunity to push forward any agenda contrary to the net neutrality principles. The ISPs also have to inform their respective National Regulatory Authorities (NRA) as to what traffic management steps have been taken.

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