In the U.S., the FCC dealt a blow to Internet neutrality and businesses while Brazil announced a new policy which shifts to an Internet ″bill of rights.″ On Wednesday, the FCC shifted policy away from neutrality towards one restricted by corporate policy. Internet neutrality is the common term many use to describe a network which is free and open to all.
The FCC’s proposal will allow ISPs to charge content providers for special access to their customers, creating a system whereby a large corporation could artificially inflate the cost of access far beyond what a small Internet business could afford. Small businesses would feel a pinch and start-up Internet content providers would face a harder time initiating new business.
The U.S. policy also allows ISPs to restrict illegal information. While such restrictions are often touted as aimed at slowing child pornography, human trafficking, and other egregiously harmful activities, other activities such as government whistle blowing could fall under this umbrella. With such a pinch on free speech, so many whistleblowers would be silenced and many crimes would be hidden from the public view. Further, this places a private company in the position of deciding what is or is not legal, without allowing any recourse to a court of law. Such an outsourcing of law enforcement power undermines much of what the United States is alleged to represent.
Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, Brazil indemnified ISPs from prosecution in cases where their users distribute illegal material or provide illegal services. The bill, which was signed into law by Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, limits how much metadata can be collected on users. Rouseff championed the bill and was pleased that the Brazilian Congress passed the bill. She hopes that the bill will serve as an example for countries worldwide who seek to protect rights on the most powerful and transformative network currently known to humanity.
Internet neutrality in the U.S. and Brazil has been in contention for many years. It was the subject of a massive protest when the U.S. proposed the Stop Online Piracy Act and thousands of websites blacked themselves out. Activists in the U.S. have been watching domestic policy shifts as well as international treaties which may affect the openness of computer networks.
In Brazil, the government has taken more action in favor of network openness and availability. Journalist Glen Greenwald moved to Rio de Janeiro after doing a series of stories on national security for The Guardian. He has since done stories on Edward Snowden and many consider his journalism to be a sort of criminal activity. Greenwald, once a Constitutional lawyer, would consider returning to the U.S. a test for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech.
The actions of Brazil and the United States show a rift in how the world can treat the virtual world. Internet neutrality and unfettered freedom of information is now guaranteed in Brazil but it is far from certain in the U.S., which has historically considered itself a bastion of freedom and opportunity.
By Hobie Anthony