The other day, a friend asked me about the status of the network fees debate in Europe. She has been following this issue in Brazil where national regulators have been emulating the European’s Commission thinking of having content and application providers pay a fee to telecommunication operators. She knew that it was an issue I was working on and was asking whether we had managed to ‘kill it’.
The answer is ‘no’, I told her. “But we did manage to shelve it, at least for the time being”.
“How great! Congratulations. Europe must feel relieved”, she continued.
That’s when I paused and realized that, indeed, Europe should feel relieved. We should be relieved because the open Internet gets to live another day; and, we should be relieved because, for the time being, reason prevailed. We need to take our small wins, whenever they come and, in whatever fashion, and celebrate them.
I think It is time to celebrate this small win.
Occasionally, in the Internet something pretty awesome happens: an issue would pop up that would make people come together and collaborate. In my twenty years of doing Internet policy, I can remember things like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) that made users take on the streets; the Snowden revelations that made the entire technical community come together and address surveillance; the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications, in which European telcos tried to kill network neutrality, unsuccessfully of course.
The network fees discussions in Europe did just that. Without realizing it, the European Commission and the European telcos became the excuse for a highly diverse set of businesses and people from academia and civil society to come together and collaborate. Groups, like the content industry and big tech, that normally sit at opposing ends, have come together to fight the wickedness of network fees. This is remarkable and, in fact, it is the entire essence of the Internet. The Internet works better if people collaborate; for people to collaborate there needs to be a common goal; the common goal ensures that participants are focused and determined to cross boundaries and even practices; and, once they do, the outcome works for everyone and not for one individual actor.
This is what Breton and the telcos failed to consider: the power of collaboration. The thinking must have been that only big tech, the direct recipient of this flawed policy, would speak up and they would easy to manage given the anti-big tech European sentiment. However, big tech was in fact the quieter voice: civil society organizations, academics, engineers, start-ups, public regulators, consumer groups and many others, we all became one voice against the European Commission and the big European telcos. This is a collective win.
We should take every win, no matter how small. They don’t often come around. So, as the European Commission is preparing for its next move – in the form of a strategy paper regarding legislation for the admittedly brilliantly branded “the DNA Act” (or Digital Network Act) – we can take a moment and breathe a sigh of relief.
The open and global Internet will get to live another day in Europe.