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Chile: First Country to Legislate Net Neutrality

After nearly three years of discussions, Chile approved the commonly named Net Neutrality Law [es], which includes the addition of three articles to the General Law of Telecommunications.

The reform implies, among other things, that Internet Service Providers will not be able to arbitrarily block, interfere, discriminate, hinder or restrict content, applications or legal services that users perform on their networks. Additionally, the reform establishes the obligation to make information about connection plans transparent and allow the possibility to request parental controls at the expense of the applicant. The establishment of this legal guarantee has been seen as a great triumph for the principle of net neutrality and Chile has been highlighted as the first country to establish this principle by law.


Video explaining net neturality, by Public Knowledge, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Creative Commons license.

One of the most important elements of this new law is that its initiative was promoted by a group of citizens organized through the Neutralidad Sí [es] community, who convinced representatives from Congress about the importance of having a law like this which guarantees rights of the users. Earlier, this group of users worked hard to show that important Internet Service Providers were performing acts contrary to the principle of neutrality, like blocking ports that allow the exchange of P2P files [es].

Felipe Morandé, Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications, said that [es], “It is a concrete step toward having greater transparency in the broadband market, stimulating competition for quality of service, which is the pillar of our public policy in telecommunications,” and he pointed out that the law, “places our country at the forefront in the world in terms of net neutrality. It shows that there is the political will in Chile to modernize the regulation of telecommunications and empower consumers. That is the path that we are following for the benefit of the citizens.”

The initiative has been generally well received by the public, as in ChileGeek for example, where Diego Narvaez mentions [es] four reasons why this is good legislation, pointing out that,

con este proyecto la legislación se pone a la vanguardia respecto a otros países como EEUU y comunidad Europea, en donde la neutralidad de la red no se encuentra legislada por el fuerte lobby que efectúan las empresas de telecomunicaciones y proveedoras de acceso.

with this project the law is placed at the forefront in respect to other countries like the US and the European community, where net neutrality is not legislated because of the strong lobby made by telecommunication companies and access providers.

But not everyone agrees. Although legislating on such an important matter seems like positive news, there are doubts about the real reach of the recently approved law. In Blawger, a blog specializing on legal matters, Miguel Morachimo says that [es],

El proyecto ha sido denominado de “neutralidad de red” pero en verdad señala obligaciones diversas para los ISPs y las empresas de telecomunicaciones que les provean de servicios, entre las cuales está la de no discriminación arbitraria en la capa de aplicaciones, servicios o contenidos legales con efectos anticompetitivos. Sin embargo, la no discriminación es una obligación que ya está presente en la regulación sectorial chilena

The project has been called “net neutrality” but in reality it points to diverse obligations for ISPs [Internet Service Providers] and telecommunication companies that provide services, which include the non arbitrary discrimination in applications, services or legal content with anticompetitive effects. However , non-discrimination is an obligation that is already present in the Chilean sector's regulation.

Siminalry, NGO Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights), a Chilean non-governmental organization which defends online rights, also raised doubts about the law [es], stating that,

La consagración legal de la neutralidad no es absoluta, sino que se configura como un derecho de los usuarios sujeto a límites importantes. Por una parte, al establecer la ley que los prestadores de Internet “No podrán arbitrariamente bloquear, interferir, discriminar, entorpecer ni restringir” el derecho a usar contenidos y redes (Art. 24 H a), deja abierta la posibilidad de intervención en la medida en que ésta no sera arbitraria.

Junto con lo anterior, la neutralidad es garantizada como un derecho a utilizar contenidos o servicios y realizar actividades de carácter legal a través de Internet sin dicha intervención discriminatoria. En consecuencia, un uso ilegal autorizaría al proveedor de conexión a ejercer medidas contrarias al principio de neutralidad.

The legal consecration of neutrality is not absolute, but rather it is configured as a right of the users subject to significant limits. On the one hand, by establishing the law that Internet providers “Can not arbitrarily block, interfere, discriminate, hinder or restrict” the right to use contents and networks (Art. 24 H a), it leaves open the possibility of intervention as long as it is not arbitrary.

Along with this, neutrality is guaranteed as a right to use contents and services and perform activities of a legal character through the Internet without such discriminatory intervention. Therefore, illegal use would allow the connection provider to pursue measures contrary to the principle of neutrality.

In short, the law is perceived as an interesting project in its intentions but unpredictable in its effects and scope. Many of its voids will be filled by a regulation that will be published in ninety days, but its content will not be part of public debate like the text of the law was. At the same time, it is interesting to note that the citizen organization, before the political initiative, is the group trying to face the challenges imposed by the digital world.

Thumbnail image “In Defense of the Internet” uploaded by Flickr user Tonymadrid Photography used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.

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