Net neutrality is widely accepted as being key to innovation, and therefore tech startups. When it operates, there is no ‘fast lane’ controlled by larger companies. Net neutrality is, in fact, why startups have been able to create so much value in the modern world – value not just in economic terms but in social terms as well, affording access to information and democratic tools. That’s why it’s also of huge value to startups in smaller markets, like those of small and medium sized European countries, since it allows them to scale and compete internationally, without being throttled at birth.
But all that is now threatened by new legislation set to go before the EU Parliament this Tuesday, October 27. The EU is planning new rules it claims will ‘protect’ Net neutrality, but a leading legal expert says it will in fact do the exact opposite.
Stanford Law Professor Barbara van Schewick, also Director of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, has written a powerful examination of the news rules: “Europe Is About to Adopt Bad Net Neutrality Rules. Here’s How to Fix Them.”
She is now working on an open letter which will be sent to EU legislators, and will be signed by leading tech companies. TechCrunch has seen a copy of the letter and can confirm that will include household internet names.
Berlin-based VC Ciaran O’Leary has also joined the campaign against the proposals and is calling on European tech players to get involved before the Tuesday deadline.
The proposal before the Parliament contains four major problems that undermine network neutrality and threaten to undermine the EU technology industry by giving ISPs enormous new powers: Fast Lanes for content chosen by ISPs; Zero-rating content determined solely by ISPs; Class-Based Discrimination determined solely by ISPs;and Impending Congestion Management, once again, determined solely by ISPs.
These are the key problems outlined by O’Leary:
The proposals will allow ISPs to create “fast lanes” for companies that pay through the new law’s “specialized services” exception. This will fundamentally hit innovative startups and could even affect free expression, and democratic discourse in Europe.
The proposals allows for “zero-rating” which will allow them to not count some applications against a users’ monthly bandwidth caps, thus discriminating against content that users want to see. Regulators will barely be able to police it.
Under the proposed laws, ISPs will be able to to define classes and speed up or slow down traffic in those classes, even if there is no congestion, thus distorting competition. It will also put all encrypted traffic in the slow lane. This means massive discrimination against anything ISPs choose not to approve.
The proposal allows ISPs to “manage congestion” in the case of impending congestion. But of cours,e that means they can slow down traffic anytime, at will. As they choose. No more level playing field for EU startups and SMEs. This will put them at a significant disadvantage to large incumbents (incl. large US technology companies) who will be able to pay their way in to a class driven internet. That reduces choice for European consumers.
In a Twitter campaign, a group of campaigners called savetheinternet.eu is targeting both the EU President Jean-Claude Juncker and Günther H. Oettinger, the EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, (@EP_President and @GOettingerEU), asking startups and investors to contact an EU representative directly warning them about the dangers of the legislation.
Some members of the EU Parliament have proposed key amendments that could address the problems outlined above. But that’s only if the amendments are included.
TechCrunch will be joining the campaign.