Why Network Neutrality is not enough: Network Equality

I’ve been assisting for the last few days at the debate during the preparation and development of NETMundial. A conference held in Brazil to discuss principles of Internet governance and digital rights.

One specific idea that puzzled me is listening to progressive voices supporting NET Neutrality: a concept of “equal technical treatment of all protocols and data”.
Does this mean we’re treating equally the people at the two sides of this conversation?

Do you think that the privilege to access educational content of a teacher in a rural area of Africa should be the same of a middle class white male in New York watching his favourite TV series?

Which connection should I drop first when resources are limited? Should I privilege the middle class man not interrupting with a “buffering” message his favourite program? Or should I privilege the rural teacher not having to download again a freely (as libre) available MIT open course material (assuming his electricity has not been cut meanwhile)?

Unfortunately the progressive voices today are supporting Network Neutrality thinking this is the optimal solution for the Internet.

What I would prefer is a concept of Network Equality where unprivileged have privileged access and where Internet activities for the common good should be privileged above the ones for private interests. Some people would prefer to call it Network Justice but I’ll stick to the name Network Equality because is the one I heard coming up a couple of times.

Network Equality is “non-Neutral”

What is the risk of a “non-Neutral” network? Power will take over control. I’m not naive and I can recognise that a non neutral network today has a bigger risk of getting under control of the private interests and structures of power to keep growing their privilege. Neutrality is against voluntary discrimination. This is why today we need Network Neutrality.

While I keep supporting Network Neutrality in the current state of the debate I think we should also acknowledge that is not enough. Inequalities are considered in the current document of NETMundial only in the part that discuss accessibility for people with disabilities. Network Equality is probably non-practically achievable and utopian, but this does not mean we should keep ignoring the inequalities we’re encouraging when we’re advocating for neutrality.

Network Neutrality is ignoring the issues of access and privilege. Network Neutrality in neither good or bad. Network Neutrality is unjust. I believe we should try to make choices that are for the common good.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
(Desmond Tutu)

If there’s one important contribution to NETMuldial you should listen to is Nnenna Nwakanma speech here