Thursday, 7 July 2011

Article written for The Guardian website

TELECOMS PACKAGE THREATENS OPEN EU INTERNET


On the 5th of May, EU Parliament will be voting to give ISPs (Internet Service Providers) the right to legally limit the number of sites a person could access, and stop them accessing certain sites altogether.

The ISPs would offer packages similar to satellite television packages, in which the customer can receive a basic selection of channels (or in this case, websites), and for an extra charge, choose to add a sports package, music package, and so on. This may not sound like much of a threat, but if the basic package only included 1 million websites, it would be blocking an estimated 195 million. A restriction on a person’s internet access could affect their ability to communicate with people, it could affect their job, and, indeed, their life.

Monica Horten, who belongs to the Communications and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) at The University of Westminster, wrote on her website (www.iptegrity.com) “News agencies this evening (28th April) are reporting a back-room deal in which the European Parliament has sold Internet users rights in favour of a bad law that the UK and French governments want. It will also suit the large telecommunications companies, but smaller operators and other industries stand to lose out.”

If you ran a small internet business, but your site was not accessible through an ISP’s most basic package, you could be losing literally millions of potential customers, as if they tried to access your website, they would get nothing more than an error message.

Anti-internet limitation website www.blackouteurope.eu are calling for all EU citizens to write to their Member of European Parliament (MEP) in a campaign to stop this vote going through. They even include a pre-prepared letter on their site, stating “The changes in the law that the European Parliament is proposing will permit my broadband provider to offer me a limited, restricted or conditional service. My concern is that such changes will kill the life of the Internet as we know it, and could have serious, detrimental economic impact on Europe’s economy.”

This issue bring up the question, ‘who owns the internet?’ and unfortunately, the answer is not an easy one. No single person or organisation can lay claim to it, rather just many various organisations, schools, and individuals who own pieces of the infrastructure that connects networks to each other.

So, does the EU Parliament have the right to allow a limitation on our internet access? Can we really be told what we can and can’t see without problems arising? And in the current economic crisis, can we really afford to have small e-businesses literally blocked from our view altogether? I may not be able to answer those questions, but I will certainly be sending the pre-prepared letter to my MEP, or in a few months time, you may no longer be able to read this without paying.

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