12th July 2017

A free and open Internet fosters freedom of speech but is under threat from the administration of President Donald Trump according to Professor Matthew Rimmer from QUT’s Faculty of Law.

“July 12 2017 is a Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality in the US, an event responding to plans by the Federal Communications Commission under the leadership of President Donald Trump’s chair Ajit Pai to repeal government rules which established net neutrality,” said Professor Rimmer.

“The new Trump administration has been seeking to dismantle network neutrality rules as part of its deregulation agenda. The Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality represents a community effort to resist such changes.

“There will be a massive online protest by a wide array of companies including Amazon, Netflix, Shapeways, Kickstarter, Twitter, and Reddit, along with organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Greenpeace, and the American Library Association.”

Professor Rimmer added that comedian John Oliver had called on his viewers to defend network neutrality and cited inventor of the Web Tim Berners-Lee who said: “To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression.”

“We have not seen such a massive online action since the protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act – in which Wikipedia and other online sites staged a blackout against draconian copyright laws,” Professor Rimmer said.

“Network neutrality started out as a philosophical concept developed by Professor Timothy Wu from Columbia University to address discrimination by broadband service providers.

“It was designed to preserve a free and open Internet by preventing broadband providers from blocking, throttling or slowing Internet services. Rather hesitantly, President Barack Obama’s administration institutionalised principles of network neutrality.”

Professor Rimmer observed there are many benefits to be derived from network neutrality, including the promotion of consumer rights, innovation, competition, and freedom of expression.

“Network neutrality ensures consumer rights are not undermined by Internet service providers and that they do not suffer a dystopia of slow lanes and fast-paid lanes on the Internet,” he said.

“Network neutrality helps ensure the Internet is a free and open platform, which supports innovation. In particular, it ensures that start-up companies and new market entrants have an equal playing field. Without such protections, Internet Service Providers could use their role as gatekeepers to reinforce their monopolies.

“Network neutrality plays an important role in respect of freedom of speech. US Senator for Minnesota Al Franken has stated ‘Network neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time’. The American Civil Liberties Union argues: ‘As information technology advances apace, the meaningful exercise of our constitutional rights – including the freedoms of speech, assembly, press and the right to petition government – has become literally dependent on broadband internet access’.”

Professor Rimmer concluded that while at least the subject was under discussion in the US, Australia was a long way behind.

“While the United States debates network neutrality, Australia still has not had a proper conversation about network neutrality,” he said.

“The issue has been periodically raised in the context of debates over the NBN, media convergence, and competition reform. There are, though, concerns about the speed of broadband services in Australia, and the problem of the data drought.

“At a time at which it is modernising its media laws, Australia would benefit from the introduction of the principle of network neutrality. The public interest doctrine would boost consumer choice, competition, and innovation in Australia.”

Media contact:

Amanda Weaver, QUT Media, 07 3138 9449, amanda.weaver@qut.edu.au

After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au



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