Working with culture, especially the independent one, which searches new partnership and development models, demands us to be activists in many causes. There’s an impact of digital culture in the models for disclosure and distribution of artists and projects, allowing the democratization for accessing cultural goods, broadening the education of audience and art consumption. These are the biggest advantages seen both by artists and producers. However, as in any other achievement that allows more autonomy and decentralization, the democratization to access cultural goods through the Internet is threatened; for this reason, we, as workers in the cultural area, should indeed fight for the neutrality of the net.
But first, what is the concept of “net neutrality”? It defines the treatment for the users’ navigation given by the communication companies and determines that all may be treated with equality, without any benefits or limitations to certain types of clients. It’s the way to ensure an environment with no discrimination. This statement is set to assure a neutral internet, where the telecommunication companies can’t distinguish the traffic based on commercial interests, by privileging some websites on the internet, social networks or applications, neither privilege the transference of determined data packages to the detriment of others (it’s associated with the information we send or receive while we are browsing).
If the internet has risen based on the net neutrality, why is it at risk nowadays? Because for telecommunication companies breaking the neutrality is an opportunity to broaden the business, as well as its profit. The companies want the costumers to pay more to have their browse “made easier” or “personalized”; they want to be allowed to favor their stockholders. In this new reality, the ones who can afford will have access to a better internet, and the ones who can’t afford it will have a deficient service, with less quality and restricted access to the contents, according to the established partnerships. Is this the internet we want?
The “Marco Civil da Internet” (Brazilian Civil Rights Framework concerning internet – Law 12.965/2014), established on June 23rd, 2014, was one of the biggest achievements concerning the digital rights in Brazil, setting internet access as a service of public interest, essential to citizenship – being understood as a concept for everyone. It’s important to consider neutrality mainly as an option for a public policy focusing on digital inclusion, recriminating the discrimination on the web. Unfortunately, the law is not enough, since we’ve been observing several violations, even after it’s been officially approved through “Decreto 8.771”, on April 2016.
Several reports of violations to the Civil Rights on Internet can often be seen in telecommunication services, referring both to the offer of mobile broadband and to the practice of zero-rating – offering free access to specific applications -, associated with extremely reduced data allowance and access blocking. These practices make inequality deeper by disrespecting the freedom of speech, the free access to information and knowledge, the right to privacy, the freedom of choice, the maintenance of a competitive environment, the innovation, and scathe the recognition of internet access as a universal right and an essential service.
Fighting for net neutrality is simply to assure that the web must be the same for everyone, with no differences regarding its use. It’s a primary consumer right, as it is well explained by the IDEC – Brazilian Institute for Consumer Rights, making a parallel with electricity supply, which is also provided by a net, and with no differences to the use of a refrigerator, a microwave or a TV. This kind of net doesn’t accept some equipment and reject others, so there’s no discrimination for the users. The same principle must be valid to the internet.
If this scenario is bad for our casual browsing in a daily basis, what to say about artists who can only allocate 10% of their budget to communication and divulgation of their projects, not even enough to cover basic costs of production? We can wonder the impact of the end of neutrality on disclosure and consumption of cultural goods, especially for the artistic expressions regarding gender, sexuality, ethnicity or belief issues. We can wonder the new reality for financial investments in communication, and the consequences of media companies’ interference to release, disclose and make a crowd funding sustainable when it’s placed by artists, groups or collectives that are beginning. We can wonder about the actual chance to disclose our works through our websites. How can we show up and survive within this unfair negotiation that the internet will become?
Based on these concerns, I started (as a cultural producer graduated in Visual Arts) to explore the defense of digital rights, and consequently, the net neutrality. My motivation is nothing less than the survival, both of my work and of the artists who I believe in.
The good news is that this fight is an actual collective effort, and many had started it. It wasn’t difficult to find other artists, producers, art lovers and activists with the same concerns. It wasn’t difficult to get all of us organized to start spreading these alerts and mobilize possible actions, online and offline. It didn’t take long to create a diverse and complementary net around this topic, as it didn’t take long to the awareness about the collective fight since the impact of the end of neutrality is general. But nothing will be effective if the users, me, you and everyone, don’t get together for fighting. The question is: how to do it?
A good example of the conformation of a diverse, open and independent net, acting across the country to defend rights, is the Coalizão Direitos na Rede (“Coalition for Rights on the Web”). Facing a political scenario of constant and growing threats to our rights and freedom on the internet, several organized groups decided to join forces and launch the campaign #InternetSobAtaque. (Internet under attack). The different profiles of activists and organizations involved allow the campaigns to act right to different fronts. Some groups are acting straight to the executive power in Brasilia, clarifying deputies and senators about the impact of law propositions – that many times rise in a hurry and with not enough research. Brasilia is the place where most of our fights for rights come true, and it’s where we’ve been still losing the battles. Other groups are acting to waken the mass media to this topic, leading to the necessary “translation” to enhance awareness among the citizens. We, web users, may take part at this final stage, discussing and spreading to our social circles the impacts of these decisions concerning our rights.
Through these actions, we faced the possible partnership between the Federal Government and the Free Basics (the former Internet.org), a Facebook’s initiative with telephone companies to provide free internet access to certain parts of the net. But why should an initiative ensuring free access for many communities be dangerous to the democratization of the net? First, because it’s not a case of digital inclusion. Under the slogan of “free access to the internet”, even for the ones who don’t have a data pack, Free Basics actually ensures the access only to the Facebook timeline and to some limited bits of the internet, including 37 partner websites and applications, prioritizing foreign contents instead of the local ones. It stimulates the concentration of the internet in only one application/platform, which has as a main source of profit the database about each user and the publicity sold because of the data. Thanks to the participation of the organizations and activists, this agreement was denied in Brazil when it was under debate in the National Congress. To the ones looking for more information about Free Basics, the group Global Voices has launched last July a research including case studies about the implementation of the app in regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The results show that Free Basics doesn’t help to “connect people to the internet and improve their life quality”, as said in the slogan of the project’s campaign.
People working to publicize their projects and events on Facebook can understand the problem of concentration of the internet use only in this platform. A news article, called “Millions of users on Facebook have no idea they are using the internet”, published on February 2015, shows that new users of the network in developing countries don’t use browsers and most of the times they don’t even know they exist. Browsers are so called because they lead us to different ways of knowledge throughout the web. When those people have been asked if Facebook is the internet, more than half of Brazilian users who participated in the survey said “yes”, what turns “the internet” into a garden inside walls, a private place, with no transparent and democratic rules, where a single company decides on whether something may or may not be published. Not to mention that Facebook is turning into an expensive space to the ones who decide to effectively publicize something, especially because of the number of sponsored posts and the demand for a higher investment to make the contents in its pages and profiles more visible.
For example: how can we ensure the publication and permanence of our projects and contents (considered many times as controversial, since we’re talking about art) in a platform that in 2015 has deleted a post by MinC (The Culture Ministry) because there was a photo of an indigenous couple from the Botocudos tribe, where the woman was partially naked?
Unfortunately, this censorship is not exclusive to Facebook.
Youtube, a platform owned by Google, has just inflicted the minimum age of 18 to view an image where two people are kissing (a promotional photography for the new single “Flutua”, where the artists Johnny Hooker and Liniker are kissing each other). Facebook has also blocked sponsored publications of this picture, claiming it had “sexual content”. In 2016, Instagram has censored a picture of the actress Maria Alice Vergueiro, claiming to ensure what they consider to be a “comfortable experience” for the users. Another recent case happened to the singer Simone Mazzer, who had her access blocked and her fan page taken down from Facebook for posting the cover of her album (a picture where breasts were depicted).
There are many examples, and they don’t stop happening.
Another important issue that has led me to defend the net neutrality was understanding that the differential for my cultural projects, based on the structure of a network between the artist and their circulations, something made easier by the internet, is only possible because there is a net neutrality. In the past, establishing a partnership between artists from Rio Grande do Sul and Rio Grande do Norte or making an independent and collaborative tour through 21 states only would be possible after a lot of information exchange and some expensive trips to visit and to get to know the cultural scenario in all the places involved. Nowadays, this research, the mapping and the contacts can be done after some clicks, which possibly will lead to an amazing project to be developed in Skype sessions and texts via Whatsapp.
In Brazil, the same company that provides internet connection is also responsible for the service of landline telephones. Every time we need to make a conference through Skype, or other similar service, to talk about projects, set details or simply exchange ideas, we are not using the traditional landline telephone. This service impacted the telephone companies’ profit, and as it is the same supplier, the companies could perfectly disfavor the connection service at the point of making its use unfeasible, making landline telephony the best option again, isn’t it right? Wrong! And it’s only possible due to the net neutrality.
Another frequent complaint about the internet is the practice known as “traffic shaping” in fixed internet broadband plans. It consists in reducing the speed if the user is applying “heavy” services, such as on demand videos or the download of torrents (a protocol for data exchange, commonly used to download movies). Although the companies deny this practice, all of us have possibly once felt “discouraged” with the long time it takes to access independent streaming platforms, or to download heavy files, because we are, all of a sudden, sent back to the times of dial-up internet access.
Defending the net neutrality is a way to ensure the cultural diversity, the free access to the independent cultural products, the innovation in projects and their disclosure. It’s a way to broaden the cultural and artistic boundaries beyond a platform. It’s a way to fight for the access of the artist to their audience, and of the audience to their art. It’s above all to ensure the right to work with art and to be visible – for the ones who want it, and not only for the ones who are allowed by the corporations.
Written by Janaina Spode, with contributions from Carolina Dalla Chiesa and Leonardo Foletto, from baixacultura.org. Edited by Christiane Spode.
Janaina Spode is graduated in Visual Arts. She has developed her final paper researching about philosophy and criticism of art. Since 2004, she’s been working in the area of cultural projects management and Incentive Laws, also being involved in the production and management of many independent cultural projects. Through the work at Casa da Cultura Digital Porto Alegre, she also acts as a hacker activist, fighting for political achievements to reinforce human rights in the digital world.