Paris (CNSNews.com) – The recent vote by the Federal Communications Commission to scrap net neutrality rules has caused an uproar in France and elsewhere in Europe, where the principle has been protected by European Union regulations since 2015.
Many tech experts here argue that Internet neutrality is what secures the rights and freedoms of citizens online. They note that the “father of the Internet,” Vinton Cerf, and the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, are among those to have criticized this decision.
“I’m France’s top internet regulator. And I fear the FCC has not considered the full consequences of altering the open web,” Sébastien Soriano, head of the French national regulatory authority for telecommunications, wrote in a message directed at U.S. regulators.
“Net neutrality is not about preserving Internet as it is,” he said. “It is about keeping doors open to reshuffle it again and again.”
Under net neutrality rules, Internet providers were compelled to treat all sources of traffic equally, in so doing creating an even playing field for content providers regardless of size.
Experts in Europe fear that small websites will ultimately disappear as they will no longer live in the shadow of the giants, and as a result the principle of neutrality will not have much use anymore.
Even if the FCC decision is an American one, the debate on net neutrality indirectly concerns many countries which base their Internet legislation on the model across the Atlantic.
Still, Arthur Messoud, a legal expert with “La Quadrature du Net” (To Square A Circle), a non-profit association that defends freedom of expression and regulation of telecommunications, said net neutrality “is guaranteed by a European regulation dating from November 2015 and applicable since March 2016.”
“If we wanted to abolish the neutrality of the net [in France], we would have to reform the European regulation, which has a much higher political cost than in the U.S.A.,” he added.
That regulation says that “Europeans have access to or can distribute the online content and services they wish without any discrimination or interference (like blocking or slowing down) by Internet access providers.”
During the Internet Governance Forum in Geneva from Dec. 18-21, E.U. commissioner Mariya Gabriel and members of the European Parliament issued a joint statement on net neutrality.
“The Commission and European Parliament reaffirmed that this is a core value for the European Union, and one that we will continue to implement for the good of all Internet users,” it said.
“The Internet is a common good for humanity that can drive improvements in society and the economy,” the statement added.
Soriano, who is also the chairman of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, agreed that the FCC decision “will have no direct impact in Europe.”
He said he was not worried for the Internet giants, which would always find a way to thrive, with or without net neutrality, but he was concerned about smaller players which would not be able to compete with them.
Soriano invited innovators in the U.S. to “come to Europe and focus on your ideas and your product. We’ll keep the way open for you.”
The principle of net neutrality considers the Internet to be “neutral” in relation to the data it carries. When somebody subscribes to an access provider he or she can in principle use any service (email, websites, videos, etc.) without special pricing for each service.