The Internet is a big deal. Everyone uses it for commerce, personal communications, and entertainment. Last week, the FCC moved forward on a proposal that would restrict use of the global network to large corporations or to whomever had enough cash to purchase bandwidth. Net Neutrality in the United States is in serious jeopardy. Brazil’s government legislated for Net Neutrality, ensuring that the network remain equally accessible for all. Concurrently, on April 24, the NetMundial conference, the first such conference, released a statement on the open Internet.
NetMundial was the first-ever meeting and process which involved governments, private sector, civil society, the technical community, and academics worldwide. Its goal was to serve as a guidepost for the Internet governance ecosystem. Since Brazil’s government has taken a stance in favor of an open and free Internet, it was only fitting that NetMundial take place in Sao Paolo.
The meeting was attended by nearly 1,500 Web stakeholders from 97 countries. The United States was represented by Michael Daniel, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator, who gave welcome remarks on the first day. Daniel was accompanied by Lawrence E. Strickling, Daniel Sepulveda, Christopher Painter and Scott Busby, who all were credited for a blog post on the White House website. Their writing applauds the conclusions and statement of NetMundial, which is in support of a network which is free and open for all.
The theme of the conference was inclusion, not exclusion, and the resulting statement from NetMundial demonstrates this ethic. The key term used to sum up the ethic of the conference is ″multistakeholder,″ which seems to indicate that every Internet user is a stakeholder, an investor in a free and open network. This puts all users on equal footing, whether they be major corporations, small nonprofits, or average citizens in a cafe typing into a laptop.
The common principles the conference asserted include privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association, accessibility, and freedom of information. So far, the United States has struggled with these values. However, the White House delegation applauds the statement, which presumably includes these values. One might wonder how the delegation might view the actions of the FCC, which seeks to bestow more power and control to large corporations and other monied interests.
Though there was a Russian delegation to NetMundial, the Russian parliament voted early this week to restrict the global computer network. The Russian law has been criticized as allowing too much government intrusion into the Internet and the citizens who use it. When, for instance, a blogger has over 3,000 page views per day, they will be held to journalistic standards such as citing sources, fact-checking, and revealing their identities. Russian bloggers will also be expected to not disseminate extremist information or information which violates privacy.
When compared to the FCC’s move against Net Neutrality, the practical differences aren’t so great. The FCC’s move will simply outsource much of this regulatory power to an unaccountable corporations, which will be given the power to decide what sort of material is legal and which is not.
In a move to counter bad publicity, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proclaimed an intent to protect the open Internet. Wheeler has a long resume which is almost exclusively in the telecommunications field, an industry which will receive unprecedented power and financial growth if the new rules go into effect.
NetMundial’s statement promotes an open Internet, where human rights are at the forefront. Causing less-fortunate humans to pay more for access is considered a harm by many. The FCC’s rule, if it goes through, institutes exactly this sort of harm for everyone.