How New US Net Neutrality Rules Are Shaping the Internet Worldwide

peterfactors/Shutterstock.com

Supporters see FCC's decision as the first open-Internet domino, but critics are warning of darker possibilities.

Fuel for the next wave of open Internet activists, or a propaganda tool for dictators?

New U.S. net neutrality rules are affecting Internet governance worldwide, reshaping the debate over Internet regulations as some major world powers near fork-in-the-road decisions about how they'll govern their own stretch of cyberspace. But while there's consensus that the U.S. decision will have impacts on Internet freedom worldwide, there's sharp disagreement over whether the new rules will help or hurt.

In general, one's take on the rules' overseas effects correlates closely one's view of the rules themselves, with supporters touting their benefits and critics warning of dire consequences.

Proponents of the rules are pointing to Europe, where the U.S. decision landed in the middle of the European Union Parliament's own debate over net neutrality. The most recent proposals in front of the governing body would be a break with the FCC's new rules, as they would allow Internet service providers to prioritize certain types of Internet traffic, the Financial Times reported this week.

The EU is expected to reach a decision this year, but some observers say the U.S. decision could change the debate's trajectory by rejuvenating European supporters of stricter net-neutrality standards.

"Civil society and grassroots movements, which in Europe are less professional—they're in a different stage, they're not as well-funded—I think they see that the narrative in the U.S. is that startups and civil society did it," said Jan Gerlach, a fellow at the Research Institute for Information Law at Switzerland's University of St. Gallen. "In Europe, that gives … the sense that they can do it."

How the European debate gets settled matters for more than just European companies and consumers: U.S. tech companies have a stake in it as well. If the rules allow ISPs to charge more for better service, Google and Facebook would face the same scenario they were trying to avoid by pushing for net neutrality in the U.S. Strict European rules that mirror the FCC's would keep the European market most open for American tech, Gerlach says.

According to the European Transparency Register—a database of lobby spending to which companies volunteer information—Microsoft spent more than 4 million Euros lobbying in Brussels for a yearlong period between 2013 and 2014. Google reported that it spent more than 1 million Euros to lobby the EU in 2013. But since the register does not require companies to report their spending, these numbers could in fact be much higher.

Giving Aid and Comfort to Censors?

But while proponents of the U.S. rules like to focus on the possibility that Europe will follow suit, critics of the policies are warning that the rules have set a different, darker precedent—one that will give authoritarian regimes cover to censor content and block Internet access among their citizens.

Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who voted against the net neutrality rules last week, said last month that if the U.S. government tried to regulate the Internet, "it becomes a lot more difficult for us to go on the international stage and tell governments: 'Look, we want you to keep your hands off the Internet.' "

And Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune warned at a committee hearing last week that authoritarian states such as China and Russia might try to exert influence over the Internet by subjecting it to regulations under a United Nations body. By enacting the FCC's net neutrality plan, Thune said, the U.S. weakened its argument for keeping the Internet outside of the U.N.'s regulatory jurisdiction.

Of course, autocrats' efforts to block and censor the Internet have been underway for decades, and proponents of the new policies say they give the U.S. a stronger platform to push for Internet freedom rather than undermine its position.

Larry Strickling, the Commerce Department's assistant secretary for communications and information, said at the hearing that there's no contradiction. "I fundamentally don't think this will change matters going forward," Stickling said. "The United States is opposed to intergovernmental resolution to these Internet issues. We will remain opposed to that."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler echoed Stickling's comments Tuesday at a gathering of tech and telecom leaders in Barcelona. "We remain absolutely steadfast opposed to intergovernmental structures that seek to impose their will on how the Internet operates," Wheeler said.

The worry that the FCC's net-neutrality rules are the first step toward Internet censorship comes from a misinterpretation of what's being regulated, according to the rules' supporters: The FCC is restricting how companies treat Internet traffic, but it's not deciding what content users can create or access.

"What we need to understand here is that the U.S. has not regulated the Internet," Gerlach said. "It has regulated access to the Internet, the last-mile connection."

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.