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11. Effective norms for the enforcement of network neutrality
For digital culture to deliver its potential, it must build on an infrastructure that is up to the challenge. We often take for granted what was actually a contingent opportunity: for 15 years, we were able to use reasonably open personal computers and a more or less neutral Internet. As information technology and the Internet disseminate in new domains and new use develops, these properties of openness and universality are seriously endangered by:
- the multiplication of devices that are controlled by proprietary players (in particular for mobile devices),
- the recentralization of services and applications,
- the attacks against network neutrality: discrimination against protocols, applications or sources; filtering and censorship; closure of devices in order to make it impossible or more difficult to go around these discriminations.
Network neutrality must now be understood as an exigence for all the chain that goes, for instance, from a mobile device such as a smartphone to a server operated by an end-user or under his or her control. European policy-makers and regulators made the disastrous choice of an attentist policy, while the evidence of harm is already present and acknowledged. Such an attentist policy amounts to accept the capture of the Internet as a common resource by the first comers or the more powerful. Up to now, only the Dutch Parliament (and in other geographic zones, Chile and Peru) adopted a network neutrallity law.
Maintaining and expanding a free common infrastructure, combining open devices and a neutral Internet, will require all the attention of the policy-makers and each of us. The lobbyists and the tears of the dominant operators of mobile telecommunication have up to now obtained the leniency of policy-makers. Let's not forget that they are responsible for a true predation on the budget of disavantaged households. The orientations of the European growth plan, elaborated in total improvisation, include a chapter on "smart networks" which should ring all the alarm bells. What we need are networks which it is smart to build, that is networks that stay efficiently stupid so that users can develop their creativity, their innovations, their sociality and their democratic processes without asking for permission to gatekeepers. As citizens, we must rise up against the resignation or leniency of policy-makers, make them accountable at each instant on what they do and what they don't do in these matters.
The intervention of legislators and regulators, as important as it is, will not suffice if we do not help it by our own choices. Let's not buy closed devices when there is a more open alternative, even if this means renouncing for a small time to some benefit in functionality or comfort (for instance for eBook readers). Let's host our precious contents and data only on our own servers or servers of trusted players who give us an excluive control on the data. Let's support projects such as the Freedom Box, and, if we feel like it, become pioneers of its usage. None of this should deprive us of the forms of use that give us new capabilities, but it means we must be more selective (ex: abstain from any presence on Facebook, make a relevant use of microblogging while keeping an open eye on alternatives to Twitter).