French Telecom Chairman: Net Neutrality is a Democratic Responsibility

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gets ready to kill network neutrality, the French telecommunications regulator chairman says network neutrality is a responsibility for democracies.

The FCC vote to scrap network neutrality is taking place tomorrow. On the lead up to the vote, opposition to scrapping the rules has been fierce. In recent days, big names in tech have been pushing to stop the vote within the government halls. Celebrities are also active in mobilizing their fans towards the cause as well.

Now, support is coming in from France. Sébastien Soriano, chairman for ARCEP (Frances national telecommunications regulator), has penned a piece on Slate explaining why network neutrality is not only critical for the economy, but is also a fundamental responsibility for any democracy. His article is meant to show the experience of network neutrality in other democracies.

In his piece, Soriano explained that network neutrality is not a deterrence for ISPs to invest in their infrastructure. Instead, Soriano says investment benefits from legal certainties. Soriano explains that investment is up by 25% – 30% in France. While he says he isn’t going so far as to say it is a cause and effect relationship, he does argue that investment has not decreased with the existence of network neutrality in the last three years.

Soriano also dismissed the argument that network neutrality rules were not needed in the past and, as such, are not needed now. He explains that the rules is about keeping doors open for investment, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He also cites the blocking of Skype in Europe and in the US by ISPs as an example of how ISPs can hamper innovation. Soriano concludes that network neutrality is to protect the little guy.

Finally, Soriano explains how network neutrality is a democratic responsibility:

Having net neutrality rules in one country creates benefits for all others—because innovators and people from all over the world will enjoy an open access to the end users of this country. That’s a common rule with networks: Openness generates value for everybody. The worldwide openness of the internet has been a great factor in its success, and it is now a global responsibility to preserve it.

BEREC cooperates with many regulators around the world. Adoption of net neutrality rules is a strong tendency, as recently confirmed by India, the biggest democracy on Earth. The ways and means of net neutrality can differ from one country to the other, taking into account specificities of local markets and organizations. Because nobody has the truth, it’s good to look around.

Whatever we do, we should be humble—and keep the doors open for the next generation of innovators.

Some of the remarks certainly echo FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny. We reported on her comments earlier. McSweeny states, “in reality big, powerful internet platforms will pay ISPs for fast lanes that smaller or mid-sized companies and entrepreneurs will not be able to access.”

Several observers also made similar comments. Some are even fearing an innovation brain drain as entrepreneurs and innovators flee the country for countries with potentially less restrictive Internet services. This, of course, if ISPs act as expected by many and begin restrict the Internet either through blocking or throttling of services. Indeed, countries like Canada and India have already expressed their interest in preserving network neutrality, so the scenario isn’t entirely out of the question.

It’s unclear if this will really affect the vote in any way, but it is certainly interesting hearing from other countries and how some see network neutrality in their respective countries.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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