Between the Kill-Switch and Facebook Zero

There are concerted efforts taken worldwide by corporations and some state agencies to destroy net neutrality both as a rule and the practice. Activists fighting to keep or restore it depict the net neutrality as a holy war for freedom, where bad corporations (and weak state agencies) instill inequality in data transmission infrastructure.

The major value net neutrality is claimed to provide is treating all content providers and all users in an equal way. Whether I want to post this document (or you try to read it) on my Facebook wall or on Diaspora pod located on my squat server, same conditions apply: same speed, same data retention policies, same surveillance, same cost. Equality uber alles.

But there is no equity in it. Huge money and vested interests make big corporate networks much faster, more accessible and ubiquitous. There are layers and layers of extra support which is not available for community-based networks and other self-organised entities. Redundant links, cache services, backstage agreements between big content providers and ISPs — net neutrality, in its full glory, cannot even scratch the surface.

The best example is “Facebook zero” — subsidized zero-cost mobile data program, “giving” users stripped down (no pictures) access to Facebook services — and nothing else. Out of 32 countries where this project was run, only Chile protested, on the ground of net neutrality principle. And the more economically disadvantaged society, the more people accepted the notion “Facebook is internet” — not using any other resources.

After 5 years of “Facebook zero” in action, the research says that 11% of Indonesians who said they used Facebook also said they did not use the Internet. 65% of Nigerians, 61% of Indonesians, and 58% of Indians agree with the statement that “Facebook is the Internet”, compared with only 5% in the U.S.

A combination of economic disincentives and long-term planned marketing brought effective corporate digital colonisation of Global South societies, and no net neutrality can change it any time soon.

Net neutrality is supposed to be a “public control” tool. Citizens, through their duly appointed representatives and their operational agencies, command and control the network policies. Only, as most of state-run systems, it does not work this way. Rather, it works for the ruling group and for whatever their cronies are. There is a limited benefit, coming from all citizen actions, in keeping rulers on their toes, but — as the matter gets complex and technical — activists simple have no chance to investigate all hidden parts of the machinery in question. And still, we remember that state agencies are not the friends of freedom. Censorship, blacklisting, “internet kill-switch” — all that was invented and deployed by the state, strictly to enforce their monopoly of power.

That is why we, at CNI, respect and recognise all self-organized grassroots efforts to support net neutrality. But we see them just as a first step.

Net Equity, not neutrality!

We believe it is time to push back for net equity. To create situation where communities, movements, grassroots organisations will have extra power to spread their content across the net. To initiate development of confederation between communities, providing their own infrastructure and their own cyber-commons, protected against state control and corporate enclosure.

In our political and technical work we will be strongly pushing toward secure, independent and robust set of links, among communities networks we help to build.

Built on top of community-driven networks, the new meta-net will primarily serve global connection between communities involved. As it grows and assumes political and economic self-organized identity, it will hopefully become global factor supporting and expanding net equity.

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