December 13, 2017

RSF asks FCC not to ditch net neutrality

Crédit : Tara Hunt // CC // Flickr.
As the U.S. Federal Communications Commission prepares to end protection for net neutrality, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that equal access to the Internet is essential for defending free, independent, and pluralist content. A U.S. decision to scrap net neutrality would have repercussions throughout the world.

Whether learning about a protest from a YouTube video, receiving a newsletter from an independent media outlet or watching content posted online by reporters – freely reported and pluralist news and information would be hit hard by the new regulations ending net neutrality on which the FCC intends to vote on December 14 after a widely-criticized consultation process.

Net neutrality is what allows each of us to have the same Internet access, without tariff or speed variations depending on which sites we visit, which content we read or what we download. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have to give all their clients equal access. This is what allows the unrestricted dissemination of pluralist content.

"By appointing one of his loyal supporters, Ajit Pai, as FCC chairman, Donald Trump had already sent a signal that the economic interests of ISPs were more important than defending the freedom to inform," said Margaux Ewen, the head of RSF’s North America bureau.

"The new regulations constitute an obstacle to media freedom and independence at a time when two thirds of U.S. citizens get their news from the Internet and social networks, and Donald Trump keeps on attacking the media."

Worrying influence

Undermining the principle of net neutrality gives ISPs the role of regulators and censors, increasing their already considerable power over the way that content is delivered.

As well as having an enormous impact in the United States, this decision will also have colossal repercussions internationally.

"The United State has an enormously influential role and we fear copy-and-paste jobs," said Elodie Vialle, the head of RSF’s Journalism and Technology Desk. "Denying equal access to independent media outlets or overcharging for messaging apps used to bypass censorship in many countries will obstruct the freedom to inform. We therefore issue a final appeal to the FCC: don't approve the new regulations."

Denying equal access to the Internet? The idea already has imitators. In Senegal, for example, the government is considering a bill that would threaten net neutrality. In Europe, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) is, for the time being, resisting ISP lobbyists. But is this sustainable after such a drastic move by the FCC?

In a joint letter, 21 Internet creators and leading figures have urged the U.S. Congress to block the FCC vote because it poses an "imminent threat" to what they created and because the proposed new rules are based on "an inaccurate understanding of Internet technology.”

RSF adds its voice to the appeals by civil society leaders, Internet pioneers, and well-known figures such as HBO talk-show host John Oliver to protect net neutrality.