A La Carte Internet, does that mean anything to you? Is the free and open Internet a thing of the past? When I asked Benedetta to write a story up about Net neutrality, I was mostly thinking about a potential two-speed Internet. What she discovered when researching the subject was that very few people cared about this. It is as if no one cared about their own right to free speech and free enterprise. Now what is happening and was revealed by the Wall Street Journal last night, is another kind of threat, where the Internet is directly manipulated by authoritarian Governments so as to show, or rather hide, certain websites to transform the free network which we know and love into some sort of A la Carte Internet. Much more of a threat than anything we had ever imagined.
To an extent, what we are witnessing in some Middle Eastern countries and namely Egypt, where already 500 websites have been blocked, is not really new. China banned Facebook nearly 10 years ago and believe it or not, not many voices have been heard to pinpoint the fact that the largest country in the world was walling off the free Internet and at the same time, freedom of speech. Instead, we hear songs of praise for the new Chinese behemoths whereas in fact as all Chinese Internet companies are vetted by the ever more powerful government, and have been able to grow because of steps that were taken to stifle competition in the country and namely preventing American companies from stepping in (let me tell you, they are not alone).
The irony is, as Sir Tim Berners-Lee rightfully pointed out not so long ago, that these very American Internet companies — even though we love them — might also a threat to the free Internet and certainly open innovation. Not because they are “wicked”, but because they are now part of a de facto monopoly. Voices are heard here and there about dismantling Google and other companies which made the Internet what it is today, not to mention Facebook.
An A La Carte Internet means no Internet at all
To sum up, there are three major threats surrounding the preservation — not to mention further development — of the free Internet : one is the oligopoly which concentrates so much of the power of the Internet in the hands of a few businesses and is fought — somewhat clumsily most of the time — by the European Union. A second threat is made of the so-called two-speed Internet advocated by some, namely in the US but also in Europe (therefore promising a “faster Internet” which is a way of slowing down the information superhighway we have grown to love and build upon throughout the years). A third one, probably the least auspicious, is made by censorship as shown in the following WSJ piece. It is really high time that Europeans — and people around the world — wake up and read Benedetta’s article if we do not want to be imposed this A la Carte Internet because an A la Carte Internet means no Internet at all.
Throughout Middle East, the Web Is Being Walled Off – a WSJ article
Authoritarian governments are turning to more widely available technologies to set up sophisticated systems to block websites and monitor traffic
CAIRO—In Egypt, the websites of the Huffington Post and Human Rights Watch aren’t available to most internet users. The Turkish government blocks more than 100,000 sites, including Wikipedia. In Saudi Arabia, a range of news sites linked to rivals Qatar and Iran are off limits.“My first thought was, ‘Welcome to China,’” said a banker in Cairo, recalling his attempt to access Mada Masr, Egypt’s leading independent news organization, which has been blocked since June 2017. He asked to have his name withheld for fear of government reprisal.In recent weeks, Egypt’s Parliament has moved to cement online censorship in law, including legislation passed on Monday that gives the government the right to block social-media users and accounts that engage in any of a number of vaguely-defined violations such as “incitement to break the law.”
”Authoritarian governments in the Middle East are increasingly adopting a version of China’s approach to online censorship, walling their citizens off from swaths of the internet and denying access to popular websites, often with the aid of Western technology. China has banned Facebook since 2009, two years before social media played an instrumental role in the uprisings of the Arab Spring. As a result, surfing the internet is often a more limited experience than people in the West are used to. Cairo, for example, has more than doubled the number of websites it blocks to an estimated 500 in the past year, according to watchdog groups. And the internet can differ considerably from place to place, depending on the priorities of people in power.