Our Internet is a place that we, as individuals, have built for ourselves. It is a place where anybody can, with a little bit of money, build their own house and hang whatever curtains they like. It is a place where knowledge, art and music (rightly or wrongly) can be freely shared across the globe, and where we can connect with people of all shapes and sizes and of all walks of life.
I am only a youth, but I know Australians, Americans, Canadians, French, Dutch, Swedes, Finns, and many more nationalities besides. Think back to when you were young – did you know that many people? Thanks to the Internet, I know that Americans are not simply the overbearing arrogant population that our media likes to paint. I’ve discovered – like many people on the Internet – that we’re so alike, no matter where we come from. We know the Internet as the great liberaliser.
Now, however, we must protect it as one against the threat of catastrophe.
Imagine our televisions. Depending on what Sky package you buy – should you choose to buy one – you can access certain television channels. If you want to watch sports, there is the sports package. Your child wants to watch a cartoon? There is the kid’s package. If you wanted, you could buy all the packages, but this is very expensive and therefore prohibitive to all but the thriftiest.
In a few years, if we do not make our fuss now, this system may well be how we get our Internet supplied in Europe, thanks to an upcoming vote in the EU Parliament. If you’re a bit of a EU nerd, you might recall that Amendment 138 prevents ISPs from blocking the access of their users without a court order. The new revision, currently going through the EU Parliament, says the following:
no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights of end-users, without a prior decision taken by legally competent authorities”
I appreciate that not everybody is a law nerd, so let’s simplify. That clause, if revised, will allow “legally competent authorities” (meaning ISPs) to restrict the fundamental rights of their users. That means it will give ISPs carte blanche to restrict access to websites on a far wider scale than they can do now, without needing to inform authorities.
That means that they are perfectly at liberty to ban you off the internet. Did you just watch a cat dancing to Rick Astley? That’s copyright infringement! Watch a few more videos like that and you might find yourself removed from the internet permanently.
Imagine a world where access agreements to your website have to be agreed upon by every ISP if you want that ISP customer’s business. All those small businesses selling amusing t-shirts will be doomed, because, across Europe, nobody will be able to access their website. Would you maintain a blog if nobody could ever read it? Would you draw a web comic if nobody could ever see it? Would you update Wikipedia if nobody could ever access it? Unless you’re truly dedicated, the answer will be no.
We as liberals cannot afford to allow the tyranny of big business to restrict the access of knowledge. We cannot allow ISPs to restrict access based on whatever arbitrary rules they set up. Most importantly, the Internet cannot survive if this core value of Net Neutrality is thrown into the dustbin. We must fight, together, to protect our Internet.
* Huw Dawson is an Accrington-base Liberal Democrat member, who writes the Left Side of Liberal blog.