Iceland: on the path to Net Neutrality

Iceland may be next to codify Net Neutrality rules in its legal system

The Althingi — a.k.a. the Icelandic Parliament — is currently considering implementing the EU Telecoms Single Market (TSM), which contains several provisions concerning Net Neutrality, the principles that keep the internet open and free. Access Now was asked to provide evidence to help clarify the issues at stake and shed light on regulatory best practices and the political process that has taken place in the EU.

Our testimony, delivered on 11 March 2016 to the members of the Environment and Communications Committee of the Althingi, focused on the following key issues:

1.)The principle of Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is a key concept in ensuring user access to the full, unfettered internet, which, in turn, ensures freedom of expression online. Net Neutrality requires that the internet be maintained as an open platform, on which network providers treat all content, applications, and services equally, without discrimination. The equitable treatment of internet traffic is currently at risk. All over the world, telecommunications companies seek loopholes to allow them to prioritise some kinds of traffic, content, or services over others to manipulate the communications market for their own purposes. We write:

Protecting the openness of the internet by guaranteeing Net Neutrality amounts to protecting and promoting free expression and freedom of opinion, which are integral in any democratic country.

2.) The history of legislative negotiations in the European Union

There have been intense negotiations on the Telecommunications Single Market in the European Union’s institutions. As we note in our testimony for the Althingi, the result is “baseline Net Neutrality regulations for the EU,” but “vagueness remains in the text and can lead to misinterpretation.” There remain unresolved issues that will need to addressed by BEREC, the body of European telecoms regulators. Access Now presented a report to BEREC in November, and the finalised guidelines are to be published in August.

3.) Rules on network discrimination practices under the EU TSM

Network Discrimination is when applications or services are prioritised over others. An example is when internet providers make special deals with companies to put their traffic in “fast lanes,” or when they intentionally interfere in the network to block or throttle services. Neither is an acceptable practise if we want a free and open internet. We write:

Several telecoms operators in the EU increasingly entered into commercial deals with services, to offer unlimited access mobile networks to online services such YouTube, Facebook, or online streaming music services, for example, separate from overall general internet usage. These offers are only accessible to dominant and deep-pocketed companies that have the resources to conclude financial agreements or other arrangements to get their services into a fast or priority lane. They are inherently anti-competitive and are in violation of the objective of the TSM.

Strict control over these practices is necessary to prevent telecoms operators from becoming internet gatekeepers, able to pick and choose winners and losers among content and application services.

4.) Standards and regulatory models for known “zero rating” schemes

“Zero rating” schemes limit users’ access to services and applications to those chosen by dominant tech and telecom companies. This unfair prioritisation of large, well-known services over others results in network discrimination, in which users are delivered access to some, but not all, of the internet. This unequal access is the opposite of Net Neutrality. Free expression and access to information depend on access to the full, unfettered internet; anything less harms users’ rights and regulators in democracies across the world are increasingly taking action.

Allowing offers that would provide access to some but not all the services, content, and applications available online contradicts the objective of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation and would severely harm users’ freedom of choice and access to information, and right to receive and impart information.

The revolutionary nature of the internet rests in its breadth and diversity. Net Neutrality requires an active commitment from public agencies and private telecom actors to protect this principle in practice, including preventing the rise of price discrimination schemes that would undermine the future of the internet and limit users’ rights.

You can read our complete testimony here.

We hope you join us at RightsCon in Silicon Valley from March 30th to April 1st to continue the discussion on Net Neutrality and zero rating.