Tech giants could be under attack in Europe due to new legislation by the European Union (EU). The Telecoms Single Market legislation promises certain protections such as banning roaming fees for calling, sending texts and using mobile data, as well as promises of net neutrality. However, tech giants in the United States are concerned that the Telecoms Single Market legislation could have the opposite effect.
Stanford Law Professor Barbara van Schewick, the Director of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, collected signatures from tech giants, startups and investors opposing the Telecoms Single Market legislation. Several concerns outlined in the letter include fast lanes for ISPs (allowing big companies to pay for faster speeds), zero-rating (the practice of not counting consumers’ usage of certain apps against monthly bandwidth caps), class-based discrimination (allowing ISPs to basically speed up or slow down certain users despite the lack of network congestion) and preemptive congestion management (allowing ISPs, at their own discretion, to slow down network traffic despite the lack of congestion). The Single Telecoms Market legislation essentially concentrates power into the hands of ISPs in Europe.
These problems jeopardize the future of startup innovation and economic growth in the EU, the letter claimed. The signatories also agreed that tech companies would find it more difficult to operate in the EU. “They also create barriers for U.S. startups and businesses seeking to enter the EU market. We believe that the future of the open Internet in Europe is at stake and urgent action is warranted.”
There are some prevalent names among the signatories. Companies such as Netflix, Kickstarter, Foursquare, BitTorrent, Etsy, Reddit, Tumblr and Automattic, Inc. (parent company of WordPress) have signed the letter opposing the EU legislation. Prominent individuals such as Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) and Larry Lessig (founder of Creative Commons and 2016 Democratic Party presidential hopeful) also signed the letter.
“When I designed the World Wide Web, I built it as an open platform to foster collaboration and innovation. The Web evolved into a powerful and ubiquitous platform because I was able to build it on an open network that treated all packets of information equally. This principle of net neutrality has kept the Internet a free and open space since its inception,” said Berners-Lee in a statement against the Single Telecoms Market. “Since then, the Internet has become the central infrastructure of our time—every sector of our economy and democracy depends on it.”
Lessig also commented on the legislation, saying that it fostered a culture of picking winners and losers rather than giving everyone a level playing field. “The proposal allows European ISPs to speed up or slow down sites in various ways. Thus, ISPs can still pick winners and losers online , which will affect us whenever we try to reach or interact with people in Europe, notwithstanding our victory with the FCC. What’s more, the proposal permits the infamous fast lanes that we fought hard to get rid of in the U.S. This will make it more expensive for startups and small businesses everywhere to reach people in Europe, and will make it harder for those without money – nonprofits, educators, artists, activists and faith groups – to be heard by Europeans. Ultimately, it will become more difficult for Europeans and anybody who wants to interact with them to speak, organize and connect online,” he said.
European citizens have also reacted to the legislation. Savetheinternet.eu, an activist group protesting the legislation, voiced many of the same concerns, and in particular targets EU President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Gunther H. Oettinger. The campaign encourages EU citizens to call members of the European Parliament to voice their concerns.
If the European Parliament makes amendments to the Single Telecoms Market legislation, or clarifies its stance, it could be easier for tech firms in Europe. If not, tech firms might find it harder to operate in the EU market and startups may decide its not worth it to operate there altogether.