We’ve written previously about European network providers whining about how it’s not fair that American companies use their wires, and yet they don’t see any money from this data. Because data is like making a phone call, or delivering oil, or any one of a number of ridiculous and out-dated metaphors.
I’m just going to lay my cards on the table: I don’t think this is about money.
Oh, I’m sure the members of ETNO, the trade group proposing this idea, would love to take a bite out of the profits of American companies to beef up their bottom line. But that’s not what this is about. This is, in the end, about censorship and control.
If you’re not familiar with how the right to free speech works in Europe: It doesn’t, at least not to the degree that it should.
That sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. In the US, the First Amendment pretty much makes any form of speech bulletproof, at least in theory. In practice it’s different, of course, but the reality is simply that America is one of the least restrictive countries in the world, legally speaking, when it comes to free speech.
Not so in Europe. While it’s far from an iron fist, governments are much more heavily involved in both the production of media and the transmission of speech. And they like it that way. Abuses of this power are rare but they’re hardly unheard of. Just ask anybody critical of the government.
Enter the Internet. Here’s a tool that circumvents both the taxes imposed to pay for this media and any little committee these governments want to put together. They’re safely on US soil, too, well out of this government’s reach.
This scares the shit out of governments, and suddenly, this law comes up that would essentially require American companies to either pay a chunk of their profits to quasi-governmental authorities… or set up Content Delivery Networks within these countries and within reach of their committees and the like.
I don’t think this is any sort of conspiracy or anything formal. And I do think we need to establish international laws that reflect both national and international realities. I just think this tax is a clumsy way of avoiding having a hard discussion and making things more convenient for pretty much the last people on Earth who deserve it.
image courtesy Daniel Broche on Flickr