A little bit breathless

The UK has offered some language to the EU regulators on Internet services that would clarify the relationship between users and providers and require full disclosure of management practices by the latter. The measure address the prime source of friction between the package of end user freedoms and the network management exception that we currently have in the US, absent a coherent regulatory framework for Internet services.

Most of us would probably say, after reading the whole package, that consumer rights are advanced by it. But most of us aren’t fire-breathing neutrality monsters who can’t be bothered with the practical realities of network operation. The actual document the Brits are circulating is here; pay special attention to the Rationale.

The operative language establishes the principle that there are in fact limits to “running the application of your choice” and “accessing and sharing the information of your choice” on the Internet, which is simply stating some of the facts of life. If you’re not allowed to engage in identity theft in real life, you’re also not allowed to do so on the Internet; if you’re not allowed to violate copyright in real life, you’re also not allowed to do so on the Internet; and so on. Similarly, while you’re allowed to access the legal content and services of your choice, you’re not allowed to access them at rates that exceed the capacity of the Internet or any of its component links at any given moment, nor without the finite delays inherent in moving a packet through a mesh of switches, nor with such frequency as to pose a nuisance to the Internet Community as a whole or to your immediate neighbors. Such is life.

In the place of the current text which touts the freedoms without acknowledging the existing legal and practical limits on them, the amendment would require the carriers to disclose service plan limits and actual management practices.

So essentially what you have here is a retreat from a statement that does not accurately describe reasonable expectations of Internet experience with one that does. You can call it the adoption of a reality-based policy statement over a faith-based statement. Who could be upset about this?

Plenty of people, as it turns out. A blog called IPtegrity is hopping mad:

Amendments to the Telecoms Package circulated in Brussels by the UK government, seek to cross out users’ rights to access and distribute Internet content and services. And they want to replace it with a ‘principle’ that users can be told not only the conditions for access, but also the conditions for the use of applications and services.

…as is science fiction writer and blogger Cory Doctorow:

The UK government’s reps in the European Union are pushing to gut the right of Internet users to access and contribute to networked services, replacing it with the “right” to abide by EULAs.

…and Slashdot contributor Glyn Moody:

UK Government Wants To Kill Net Neutrality In EU
…The amendments, if carried, would reverse the principle of end-to-end connectivity which has underpinned not only the Internet, but also European telecommunications policy, to date.’

The general argument these folks make is that the Internet’s magic end-to-end argument isn’t just a guideline for developers of experimental protocols (as I’ve always thought it was,) but an all-powerful axiom that confers immunity from the laws of physics and economics as well as those of human legislative bodies. Seriously.

So what would you rather have, a policy statement that grants more freedoms to you than any carrier can actually provide, or one that honestly and truthfully discloses the actual limits to you? This, my friends, is a fundamental choice: live amongst the clouds railing at the facts or in a real world where up is up and down is down. Sometimes you have to choose.

H/T Hit and Run.

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