Uncovering Big Tech’s Sneaky Red Herring: The Net Neutrality Fallacy

In order to have a successful public debate on a complex issue, it’s important to come up with a catchy phrase or buzzword. Although many may not fully understand what Net Neutrality means, they strongly support the idea of neutral internet networks. Big Tech companies recognize the passionate discussions that surround the topic of Net Neutrality among policymakers and consumers. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they consistently use the threats to Net Neutrality as an excuse to oppose connectivity-related policy initiatives, even when these initiatives have little or nothing to do with Net Neutrality.

A prime example of this strategy is Big Tech’s arguments against the Fair Share proposal, which aims to address the investment gap holding back Europe’s internet infrastructure. The proposal suggests that Large Traffic Generators (LTGs), those who exceed a 5% bandwidth threshold on national telecoms networks, should pay for the data traffic delivery service they receive. This would contribute to the sustainability of the internet networks. Importantly, the Fair Share proposal aligns with Net Neutrality principles and includes safeguards to protect against any undermining actions by involved parties.

It is worth noting that even the European Commission agrees that Fair Share does not violate Net Neutrality. Commissioner Breton has dismissed these concerns, stating that they have no intention of changing Net Neutrality as it is deeply embedded in their values and Digital Decade goals. Additionally, the European Parliament has recently approved a report on competition policy that specifically calls for large traffic generators to contribute fairly to telecom network funding without compromising Net Neutrality. These reassurances demonstrate that any Fair Share proposal adopted in Europe would fully align with the Open Internet Regulation, which protects Net Neutrality principles.

Despite these clear statements, Big Tech continues to accuse the proposal of violating Net Neutrality without offering any substantiation of their claims. They argue that Fair Share will hinder innovation, media pluralism, and freedom of speech without providing any concrete evidence of how this would occur. Unfortunately, their repeated use of the Net Neutrality buzzword has gained some support in Brussels and could potentially impede the much-needed investment in European internet infrastructure.

As the European Commission reviews the contributions to its consultation, we will address the misconceptions surrounding the impact of Fair Share on Net Neutrality directly. The regulations in the European Union’s Open Internet Regulation (OIR) do not prohibit charging Large Traffic Generators for the services they receive. In fact, the OIR encourages parties to negotiate tariffs for specific data volumes and speeds of internet access, as long as these agreements do not limit the rights outlined in the Regulation.

Fair Share does not affect traffic whatsoever. It does not involve blocking, slowing down, altering, restricting, interfering with, degrading, or prioritizing traffic. Under Fair Share, all traffic, whether from Large Traffic Generators or regular Traffic Generators, will be treated equally in terms of traffic management. No traffic will be given preferential treatment, and the service provided will be the same for all types of generators.

In the event of a dispute, breach, or litigation regarding the Fair Share agreement between a Large Traffic Generator and a network operator, the delivery of traffic service must continue. Any unilateral actions, such as throttling or blocking traffic from a Large Traffic Generator, would be a violation of the OIR legislation and subject to sanctions. The same would apply in a situation without Fair Share in place.

Fair Share will not impact access to an open and free internet. It does not restrict or limit the rights of end-users or the services they utilize to send and receive information, access content, or choose other services (as stated in Article 3.1 of OIR).

Continuing to rely on this misleading argument is not only inaccurate but potentially harmful to Europeans. It distorts the debate and diverts attention from the real issue at hand: Europe requires investments in its digital infrastructure for the benefit of all its citizens in the future. It’s time for Big Tech to accept their role in making this happen.

Strong Alliance Fights for European Net Neutrality

At the beginning of this year, the European Commission initiated a discussion about the future of the electronic communications sector and its infrastructure. The main focus was to determine if all parties benefiting from digital advancements should contribute to the necessary investments in the area. To address this, the Europeana Foundation joined forces with Creative Commons and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to provide a joint response.

In our joint response, we appreciate the European Commission’s efforts to improve broadband access and expand network capabilities, enabling innovation. However, we express our concerns regarding the potential establishment of a legal basis for telecom companies to demand payments from content and application providers for traffic generation. This could compromise net neutrality and the principles of an open and fair internet, which we strongly value and defend.

Our joint submission emphasizes the specific impacts this development would have on knowledge and cultural heritage institutions. The Europeana Foundation, Creative Commons, and IFLA represent organizations and individuals involved in galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and other sectors facilitating the sharing of knowledge and culture, particularly online. We play crucial roles in serving European communities by providing resources, services, and fostering creativity and innovation to create a trusted digital environment.

The Europeana Foundation, as the guardian of the European data space for cultural heritage, actively works towards a vision where access to culture remains open and accessible to all. We fear that these new potential fees would negatively affect the institutions and communities we support. As repositories of vast amounts of data, we are responsible for collecting, preserving, and making various forms of media and information available to the public. While individual users may not utilize the entirety of our collections, collectively serving our communities requires handling large amounts of data. Additionally, we cater to academics and researchers who may require comprehensive access to datasets for their public-interest activities.

Under the proposed conditions, institutions like ours may be classified as “large traffic generators” and subjected to new fees. As organizations serving the public, we already face significant budget constraints, and such fees would further limit the services we provide. Instead of allocating our resources to fulfill our missions, we would essentially be contributing to the profits of telecom operators.

In our joint response, we highlight several alternative ways to support an open and affordable internet. These include expanding wireless services, promoting community networks, updating universal service funding, and collaborating with knowledge and cultural institutions that already work on providing internet access to local residents. We hope that these ideas, among others, will be the main focus as the consultation progresses.

The Europeana Foundation, Creative Commons, and IFLA are ready to cooperate with the European Commission and other stakeholders to explore alternative approaches that ensure an open internet and equitable treatment of data traffic for all, in line with the principle of net neutrality.