Christoph Steck /@christophsteck
Director of Public Policy and Internet at Telefónica
We Agree: Net Neutrality principles should focus on giving users an open, unrestricted and non-discriminative access to Internet content, applications and services of their choice. It is all about ensuring customers an Open Internet experience.
However, most seem to forget in the heated Net Neutrality debate that the Internet experience starts when you turn on your device, that it starts with your smartphone, tablet or computer. The device has an operating system, which enables installing software programs or apps to provide a service connected by networks which give access to other networks and servers and ultimately devices. Companies, individuals, governments or NGOs connect to this web to offer their services, contents and products. Clearly, the Internet is not just the access network; the Internet Value Chain is comprised of device manufactures, Operating Systems developers, Apps and software programmers, network access providers, network carriers, content producers and owners and many more. All are equally relevant within their role; if one fails, the Internet Value Chain fails. If access networks providers prevent users from accessing a service the user experience will be impaired; if operating systems or apps prevent users from accessing or downloading specific content, the user experience will we impaired as well.
As we have stated in the past on this Blog and our Digital Manifesto webpage: In order to secure an open and neutral customer experience, a non-discriminatory, neutral and fair treatment needs to be guaranteed across the whole Internet value chain, to the whole digital experience of consumers.
Increasingly, this view is shared by others. Blackberry´s CEO for example has recently published an interesting post (Net Neutrality: No on Reclassification, Yes on Adding Content & App Providers ) where he states rightly: “Any net neutrality legislation must take a holistic view of the entire playing field, addressing both carrier neutrality and content/application neutrality”. He also compares telecoms with railways, who built the tracks to carry traffic to all points across the country, while the trains travelling on those tracks are the content and applications providers of the Internet. He argues that banning railways from discriminating but allowing the trains travelling on those tracks to continue doing so, will solve nothing, as the experience of the people travelling on the train will be impaired in both cases. If we want to keep an open internet, policymakers should demand openness not just at the traffic/transport layer, but also at the content/applications layer of the ecosystem.
There are many who advocate loudly for strong Net Neutrality provisions to be imposed upon access network providers, usually using the argument that regulation need to prevent future anticompetitive, discriminatory behavior. In other words: ISPs should not be allowed to decide on winners and losers on the Internet.
However, according to Blackberry it seems that not ISPs and telecom operators are deciding on that, but rather others are exerting its powers in discriminatory ways: while BlackBerry has made its BlackBerry Messenger service available to users of other mobile Operating Systems (such as iOS/iPhone and Android), for example Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download and install Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Or, Netflix has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them while offering it only to Android and Apple users.
The results of this discrimination by dominant Internet companies is described by Blackberry in blunt words: “This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.”
There is no doubt that Net Neutrality should be about assuring a great user Internet experience, about granting users an open, unrestricted and non-discriminative access to Internet content, applications and services of their choice. But, this will demand extending the neutrality principles beyond the network layer, to the Internet layer, transport, application and content layers. Fair and future-proof policies need to tackle all abuses in the digital economy, across all platforms.
What do you think: Is it not time to start discussing “Digital Neutrality” instead of Net Neutrality?