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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Only the poor pay taxes...or support net neutrality?

"Let them eat brioche" was not the precise meaning of the Commissioner's response to the little people on net neutrality, but it was pretty close. They can choose to switch with greater transparency in a free market, she claimed, singing from Ofcom's playbook. No doubt she has more planned to entertain the troops in the dying of the light of this wretched 2009-14 Commission that has dragged Europe to its knees: “The European Commission is, therefore, preparing substantial recommendations which will address transparency and switching issues will also address specifically the responsible use of traffic management practices.”
The problem, you see, is that no-one of any importance pays much in the way of taxes - certainly not Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple or eBay, or wretched Starbucks (which sells brown warm runny stuff which is not tea). Not only are they free-riding on the copyright lobbyists, but also by using net neutrality when it pleases them they free-ride on the fat-cat incumbent telcos and fatter mobile networks, who are not going down without a fight even if it means breaking the Internet. And it turns out, on us too, pedalling our private and confidential data for advertising dollars. [Spoiler alert - yes, ironically I free-ride off Google with this Blogspot supported diatribe, but academics are supposed to be hypocrites. Do as I say, not as I do...]
Now that is not fair. We should not care much how deckchairs are arranged on the Titanic of telecoms, except that we still have to pay monthly for a line and some spectrum on the copper for our broadband - and laughably have to pay for phone calls we will never make. Google gave up on net neutrality years ago, and Facebook never supported it once it went public, while the European public service broadcasters have become suspiciously quiet - or disgraceful in the case of ITV.
But for all these oligopolists, the night might be dark and full of terrors - not only do capitalists apparently not believe in capitalism any more, and their regulators not believe in government regulation, but we are EXACTLY a year from that one time when the little people get scary - the European Parliamentary elections of May 2014. That means potential for fascists and pirates...
Two events are about to shed some light on the little people's worries. First the Council of Europe will hold a two-day workshop on net neutrality and human rights - not economics - on 29/30 May. Second, the European Parliament is hosting a workshop on "Guaranteeing competition and the open internet" at the European Parliament on 4 June. The European Commission and Council of Ministers does not listen to their own consumer groups, but perhaps these voices will be a little more persuasive in the ministries?

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