Evan Greer: defending net neutrality as a ‘basic principle’
The keynote speaker at the Broadband World Forum will keep fighting for equal access
Evan Greer: “The people in this room have an unparalleled ability to shape the future of the web.”
As I arranged to meet net neutrality activist Evan Greer for lunch at this week’s Broadband World Forum in London, I knew she wouldn’t be hard to find in a sea of men with neat back and sides, mostly wearing muted grey suits.
“I’m easy to spot; I’m the non-male, non-suit wearing one,” I tweeted. “I’m the one with the busted shoes and sparkly nail polish,” was the reply.
Perhaps to the surprise of delegates there for talks from the usual suspects including BT, Virgin Media, Sky, Alcatel Lucent and Huawei, Greer was also one of the keynote speakers. Her talk on net neutrality and freedom of speech, as the moderator noted, was a change of pace.
Greer is campaign director for Fight for the Future, a non-profit organisation advocating equal internet access for all and whose work helped US telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), put through new protections on net neutrality earlier this year despite powerful lobbying from US telco providers in order to prevent this.
This means the FCC can prevent internet service providers in the US from throttling traffic speeds, selling “fast lanes”, or blocking access to any apps or websites across mobile or wired connections.
“Net neutrality is a basic principle that has been around since the inception of the internet. It says that internet service providers should not be allowed to block, throttle, or otherwise interfere with legal internet content,” she explained.
“It’s what makes the internet so wonderful and diverse. It’s what makes it possible for funny homemade cat videos, dissident blogs and alternative content to reach an audience on the same level playing field as incumbent content providers like CNN, Fox News and the BBC.”
Perhaps delegates were wondering why they were being told this story. After all, most attend this industry event to court potential clients, learn about new technologies or showcase their own offerings. The politics of internet access is not politic, surely? Greer explained that understanding what the public has campaigned for is the same as knowing what your customer wants. “They want you to connect them to the entire global web in all its glory. Zero-rating schemes and other gimmicks may lead to short-term profits but in the end, in the long run, it will alienate, frustrate and outrage your customers because it degrades the internet and diminishes its ground-breaking potential.”
Shape the future
Greer also criticised Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative, saying that although there are millions of people around the world currently not online, a version of the web designed and controlled by Facebook is a dangerous alternative.
“Offering [those who need internet access] a walled garden or watered-down version of the internet won’t address that digital divide, it will deepen it or worse, codify it for decades to come.”
Although Greer’s talk was met with lukewarm applause, the message appeals to a wider audience who also happen to be broadband subscribers, something this year’s Broadband World Forum organisers were savvy enough to see. Maybe next year Snowden will pop by.