Defend Net Neutrality! Don’t force ISPs to spy on their customers in the name of copyright enforcement! Such are the demands of a European online video campaign called Throttle the Package that has recently been launched by — no, not the overseas bureau of the EFF — TelecomTV, a web site that’s targeting executives from, and is partially funded by, Europe’s telco companies.
U.S. ISPs like AT&T have said they’re open to engaging in copyright enforcement in the past, and companies like Comcast have spent lots of money lobbying against Net Neutrality. Not so in Europe. Instead of writing checks to politicians, the folks over there sit down with them for video interviews and ask hard-hitting questions. So, why are things so different in Europe?
At the heart of the conflict is the so-called Telecoms Package, a number of directives that were recently introduced in the European parliament and aim to update EU telco regulations. Lobbyists from record companies and movie studios tried to get the EU to adopt the French three strikes approach against file sharers, which makes ISPs permanently ban P2P users from the Internet after three instances of copyright infringement.
Consumer advocates protested against these plans, and a number of elected EU representatives voiced serious concerns. This led to some changes of wording of the directives, which now call for “voluntary agreements” between ISPs and copyright holders. However, critics are worried that dubious language in several amendments could still force ISPs to restrict, degrade and in some cases interrupt their customers’ service and eventually force them into the role of copyright cops.
TelecomTV took the matter at heart and recently launched full-blown campaign that is slated to run until the European parliament votes on the Telecoms Package at the end of September. At the center of the campaign is a petition that calls for the “web surfers of the world [to] unite.” Part of it reads:
“These measures, if passed, will chip away at ISPs’ current ‘mere conduit’ status by making it possible for national governments to pass laws — or allow civil actions — to force ISPs to co-operate with authorities or other interested parties (such as the music and film industries) and disclose information on users and their online behaviour. At TelecomTV, we believe this is fundamentally wrong and will damage Internet neutrality along with European citizens’ civil rights and liberties.”
Granted, TelecomTV isn’t speaking directly for European ISPs; it’s a B2B online publication geared at telecom industry executives. But it also does marketing for companies like BT, Alcatel Lucent and, yes, AT&T. Does that mean that these companies necessarily support Net Neutrality? Of course not. But the European fight against the Telecoms Package shows us that the lines are suddenly becoming a whole lot blurrier once the telcos have to decide between a neutral Internet and one they have to police themselves.