Liberal MEP: Open, competitive neutral internet is “communism”

By EDRi · February 27, 2014

Jens Rohde is the Danish Liberal MEP responsible for negotiating on behalf of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament on the new EU Regulation on telecommunications (including net neutrality).

Yesterday, Mr Rohde posted a statement on Facebook (translated and copied below, with a screenshot) that is a perfect illustration of how difficult it is for parliamentarians to deal with the Commission’s tactics as they seek to deal with the pressures of the upcoming elections and other parliamentary business (he was in Ukraine all of last week). Mr Rohde has been instrumental in gaining the support of the ALDE group for the anti-net neutrality “compromise” amendment tabled by the MEP in charge (Pilar Del Castillo, EPP, Spain) – without ALDE, she would not have a majority.

As a strong supporter of open competition and an opponent of protectionism, his natural position on net neutrality should be clear. Both socially and economically, we need strong net neutrality legislation and we absolutely must avoid experimentation with an open network which has generated such social and economic value. Up until now, we lived in a fiercely competitive online world, where broadly equal access to a world of internet users generated innovation and economic growth, in a world where former telecoms monopolies were forced by legislation to keep their networks open to drive competition.

The opening part of his post are in line with what we could expect from somebody which his philosophy. He proudly proclaimed that net neutrality is “established as a core principle” in the new Regulation (although, contrary to the Commission’s claims, this is not true), before explaining that there are five pages in the Regulation dedicated to ensuring that this principle cannot be circumvented (again, contrary to what he has been told by the Commission, this is not true). So far so good – he is in principle on our side, even if in practice, he is supporting over-complex, misleading and destructive legal texts.

Unfortunately, the Commission is also arguing that net neutrality needs loopholes for, they claim, applications such as time-critical telemedicine applications or machine to machine services, neither of which appear very relevant, albeit for opposite different reasons. However, because the definition of these specialised services is so weak, they have become a huge loophole designed by the Commission to be exploited by online monopolies and former telecoms monopolies. With such arguments, the Commission has again moved Mr Rohde away from his natural pro-market views.

In the context of this solid net neutrality law that cannot be circumvented, he ends up explaining that it must be possible to circumvent net neutrality. It should be possible, he argues, to “buy” access to the highway and to gain more capacity than others. This strategy would, of course, also allow big online monopolies to do deals with the big former telecoms monopolies for privileged access to users – deals that innovative startups cannot buy. This is hardly a natural view of anyone who considers themselves either economically or socially liberal.

Demands to reinforce this pro-competitive approach are then described, illogically and uncharacteristically, by Mr Rohde as “net communism”. So, thanks to the imaginative lobbying from the Commission, Mr Rohde is in favour of net neutrality, Mr Rohde is in favour of the half-baked compromise agreed with the EPP, Mr Rohde is opposed to net neutrality. Mr Rohde is negotiating on behalf of the third biggest political group in the European Parliament on a telecoms regulation that will be of social and economic significance for every individual and every business in Europe. The Commission wanted to create confusion by putting parliamentarians under time pressure – and this is exactly what it has achieved.

Today, Mr Rohde has gone on Facebook again, this time to claim that if the compromise amendment proposed by the MEP responsible for the dossier in the Socialists and Democrats group were adopted by the Committee, the main right-wing groups would vote against the entire proposal. This simply will not happen because nobody in the Parliament wants to jeopardise the entire proposal because everybody wants to kill roaming before the election. It is not obvious whether he believes this because he was beaten in the negotiations between the political groups, or if he simply finds this to be an easy excuse to avoid supporting a free, open and competitive internet.

Score so far: European Commission 1 – European Parliament 0

Translation of the Facebook post

For a politician, politics is about making compromises. About making agreements and standing by these agreements. Politics is about GETTING PEOPLE TO AGREE WITH YOU, not about BEING right.

I have negotiated an agreement which is about roaming, more frequencies for the net, and which for the first time in history introduces any form of legislation about an open internet. May I call your attention to the fact that only The Netherlands has legislation on net neutrality, and that this law is nowhere near as strong as the one we have made here.

We have assurance that service providers cannot harass or block competitors. But we allow that, for example, very special services can buy themselves some highway. This is crucial for our hospitals when we, for example, discuss telemedicine.

I am not acting against a majority. On the contrary, I have a majority in parliament. I have made a number of compromises. You have to do that in politics. And then somebody comes along and wants more. If we open the negotiations again, it becomes a Pandora’s box, and you are gambling with the abolishment of roaming and more broadband – and net neutrality.

This matter needs to be dealt with delicately, and if I push things any further than I have done already (I have managed to get 10 out of 12 amendments on net neutrality through), the entire agreement may collapse. If so, there will not be more net, no abolition of roaming, and no agreement on net neutrality at all. This cannot be in anybody’s interest.

I am precisely the one who, through a certain pragmatism and a willingness to political compromise, can ensure that something actually happens, and that we are writing history by both abolishing roaming and introducing net neutrality in EU legislation. Something that does not exist today, which has not exactly limited the progress of the internet….

Net neutrality is established as a core principle in the proposal and key, among other things, is Article 23 which says:

“End-users shall be free to access and distribute information and content, run and provide applications and services and use terminals of their choice, irrespective of the end-user´s or provider´s location or the location, origin or destination of the service, information or content, via their internet access service”

In addition to that, we are using five pages to establish the principle of net neutrality and to make sure that it is not circumvented.

But net neutrality to me is not the same thing as saying that no one can buy access to a highway, that no one can offer a highway, and that no one is allowed to  buy more space than others on a highway. That is net communism, and I do not support that.

It is outright nonsense and communist bullshit to claim that I would be the man who destroys the open internet. As mentioned above, there is no net neutrality legislation today, and as far as I know, the internet is fairly open, and few people can really claim that they lack information or the possibility to upload whatever they want. We are now presenting for the first time a compromise proposal, for which we have those, who do not want net neutrality at all, persuaded to be part of the agreement, and just because this does not satisfy 100 percent of the views of the net communists, one is accused of destroying the open internet.

Skærmbillede2014-02-26 20:20:42