Tag Archives: regulation

Net neutrality – what is it and why should we be concerned about it?

(Image c/o Maik on Flickr.)

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that all packets of data over the internet should be transmitted equally, without discrimination. So, for example, net neutrality ensures that your blog can be accessed just as quickly as, say the BBC website. Essentially, it prevents ISPs from discriminating between sites, organisations etc whereby those with the deepest pockets can pay to get in the fast lane, whilst the rest have to contend with the slow lane. Instead, every website is treated equally, preventing the big names from delivering their data faster than a small independent online service. This ensures that no one organisation can deliver their data any quicker than anyone else, enabling a fair and open playing field that encourages innovation and diversity in the range of information material online. The principles of net neutrality are effectively the reason why we have a (reasonably) diverse online space that enables anyone to create a website and reach a large volume of people.

Isn’t this mainly a US issue?

The issue has been a major topic for debate in the United States for sometime now. In theory, this was recently resolved when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) recently voted to protect the principle of net neutrality. However, this has not closed the debate as some US broadband providers have launched a legal challenge against this ruling and Republicans in Congress have launched an attempt to fast-track a repeal of the FCC’s new rules.

Why should we in Europe be concerned if this is a US issue?

Whilst there has been little public debate in the UK or Europe around the issue of net neutrality, it is becoming an increasingly important issue. Earlier this year, the Latvian government (currently holding the European presidency) proposed that there should be exceptions to net neutrality rules, particularly when their networks face “exceptional…congestion”.

In March, a majority of EU Member States voted in favour of changing the rules to bar discrimination in internet access but, crucially, the rule changes would allow the prioritisation of some “specialised” services that required high quality internet access to function. This was reinforced by the Chief Executive of Nokia who argued that some technologies (such as self-driving cars) will be hindered so long as providers have to abide by net neutrality principles.

The current situation in the EU makes an interesting comparison to the FCC ruling, as it has been argued that the EU is heading in exactly the opposite direction to the FCCs strong position on net neutrality. It’s unclear at this stage what impact the FCC ruling will have on the EU’s position. The difficulty in the EU is that the legislative process is more complex in the US, due partly to the number of countries and bodies involved. Furthermore, because there are many countries and many telecoms CEOs, there is much stronger lobbying against the legislation.

A recent report by Web Index found a mixed bag when it comes to net neutrality regulations across the EU. The report noted that whilst the Netherlands scored eight out of a possible ten for net neutrality, countries such as Italy and Poland scored only 2. In a blog post for the European Commission, Tim Berners Lee argued that binding net neutrality rules would “raise the bar for the performance of lower ranking countries, ultimately enabling Europe to harvest the full potential of the open Internet as a driver for economic growth and social progress”.

Will regulation solve the problem?

Whilst tighter regulation can help to oblige telecoms companies to adhere to the principles of net neutrality, it doesn’t mean to say that the problem will be eliminated. As with all laws, their existence does not eradicate an issue, it merely minimises it. For example, the Authority for Consumers and Markets in the Netherlands recently fined the country’s two largest operators, KPN and Vodafone, for blocking services and zero-rating data for subscribers to HBO. It’s clear that violations will continue to occur, but arguably there will be fewer once regulation is in place.

Who opposes net neutrality?

A range of large companies oppose net neutrality, including: Nokia (see above), Panasonic, Ericsson, IBM and CISCO amongst others.

Who supports net neutrality?

Article 19, Greenpeace, Twitter,  Microsoft (although Microsoft argue that “traffic should not be subject to unreasonable discrimination by their broadband provider” – it’s unclear what they mean by “unreasonable”), Etsy, Amazon, Facebook and, of course, the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee.

What about Google?

Google have been largely quiet publicly when it comes to the net neutrality debate in recent years, although they had previously been very vocal on the issue and have lobbied the FCC in the past.

Why should I care about net neutrality?

Net neutrality ensures that we have an internet that enables the broadest possible range of views. By ensuring a level playing field, it ensures that no one perspective dominates the internet. If companies are able to ensure their data travels on the fast lane, then we can be sure that those companies will dominate the landscape because their sites transfer data quickly and efficiently. This will ultimately lead to a narrowing down of sites as people avoid using services where data travels in the slow lane, in favour of those that travel in the fast lane. Big companies will get bigger, small companies will disappear and new companies will not get off the ground without significant sums of money to enable them to compete. The internet thrives on innovation and an abandonment of these principles would seriously impede innovation.

We have also seen in other forms of media what occurs when regulation is too lax. We see in print and broadcast media a decline in media plurality. Certain media outlets have come to dominate the landscape with ownership of popular print and broadcast media. An abandonment of net neutrality rules could lead to the very same decline online. The internet will be dominated by a very few large corporations who provide the vast majority of the content. This is, of course, bad news for those that use the internet and bad news for democracy as a vibrant democracy relies on media plurality to ensure a well-informed electorate.

Where can I find out more about net neutrality?

The digital rights campaigning organisation Open Rights Group keeps a close eye on developments and often posts updates regarding developments on net neutrality in the UK. Article 19 is also a good source of information regarding the issue. As is Index on Censorship. A number of organisations (including Article 19 and Index on Censorship) are also members of the Global Net Neutrality Coalition – you can find details of all involved on their website. Web Index, produced by the World Wide Web Foundation, measures the World Wide Web’s “contribution to social, economic and political progress in countries across the world” and produces an annual report that has recently added net neutrality to the list of measures it assesses. American readers can also defend the principles of net neutrality through the Battle for the Net campaign

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What could an EU review mean for librarians?

Could librarians soon no longer be recognised by the EU as ‘professionals’? (Image c/o Open Democracy on Flickr.)

On the 15th of November, the Council of the European Union issued a press release on the Adoption of the Professional Qualifications Directive, where it is proposed that a “European Professional” card could be created, that will facilitate the recognition of the card holder as a professional in the new host country when they move between EU member states. The review also proposes reducing the number of regulated professions downwards from the current level of 800.

If you check the database which hosts the information on regulated professions in the EU, you won’t find “librarian” as a term for the profession in the UK. Somehow, there’s been an error, and instead of “librarian” being the regulated profession here, “Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals – CILIP” is the term the database uses to define an information professional in the UK. There are 10 entries for the profession of “librarian” when I search for the generic term “librarian”, and having checked with speakers of some of the other languages, the other terms are definitely are national names for librarians, or librarian specialists. I’ve looked for some way to contact the database managers to have this error corrected, but the front page has this disclaimer:

Each country is responsible for updating information on its regulated professions, competent authorities and statistics. The Commission can not be held responsible for any missing or outdated information.

I’m not sure which part of “the country” is responsible for giving corrected information to the database administrators! Within the Competent Authorities information for the librarian/CILIP entry, there are no “contact persons” for this profession, but the link for contact points leads to a list of national contact points.The national contact point information for the UK seems to be some group called ECCTIS Ltd, so when I get a chance I’ll get in touch with them, and see if they can get the entry amended.

In the meantime, this brings to mind a few questions, which I think are worth exploring in more detail. This is all new to me, so I’d be happy to get input from those involved in these activities.

  • Does the current Directive/database information mean that the EU regard CILIP as the only professional body (or in the terms of the Directive, “competent authority”) for regulating librarians in the UK?
  • As stated in the press release, ”a regulated profession means that access to the profession is subject to a person holding a specific qualification, such as a university diploma, and that activities are reserved to holders of such qualifications.” Does CILIP hold the regulator role due to their involvement in accrediting UK university courses for information professionals?
  • If so, are other bodies that represent librarians eligible to become recognised as a competent authority to regulate librarians in the UK, by also accrediting UK university courses, or by some other method?
  • Is there a risk that this review will remove “librarian” from the category of professionals which are recognised as a profession within the EU?
  • If “librarian” was no longer recognised as a regulated profession, and librarians could not apply for the proposed European Professional Card, what impact would this have in a wider context for librarians, both in the UK and across the EU? Would it make emigration harder if librarians were no longer viewed as skilled professionals?
  • Does CILIP’s current revamp of their Professional Registration process work to demonstrate that participants in that scheme have the level of professionalism required to remain defined as a regulated profession?
  • What can current information professional bodies and individuals do to ensure that “librarian” remains recognised as a profession?

Hopefully there are some people out there that know more than me about how professional bodies are regulated in the EU, who can share their knowledge and answer some of those questions.

By Jennie Findlay

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