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The decision last week of the US Federal Communications Commission to roll back rules on “net neutrality” (the principle that internet service providers should treat all online traffic the same) was greeted with consternation in many quarters.
In her column this week, Rana Foroohar argues that while the ideal of a level playing field for internet use is an admirable one, we should not overlook the fact that the principal beneficiaries of net neutrality have not been individual users, but the big tech conglomerates or “Fangs” — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. As Ajit Pai, the chair of the FCC put it, the decision changes the balance of power between tech and telecoms.
The tech giants — and many civil society groups — argue that ceding more power to the ISPs, which is a likely consequence of the FCC’s move, would hinder innovation and harm small businesses. But, Rana suggests, it is at least arguable that it’s the Fangs themselves who are a “bigger risk to innovation than the telecoms companies, in large part because of the network effects that make them natural monopolies.”
In any case, it is not the big tech firms that will suffer from the rollback of net neutrality — they are rich enough to meet whatever fees ISPs decide to charge. It is ordinary citizens who will pay the biggest price if the result of the FCC’s decision is the creation of a two-tier internet.
Europe’s real cliff edge — The biggest problem facing the EU, argues Wolfgang Munchau, is not Brexit, but unresolved problems in the eurozone. European leaders are currently consoling themselves with the fantasy that a banking union would guarantee eurozone stability.
How to secure Labour’s jobs-first Brexit — Peter Mandelson argues that UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn must steer public opinion towards putting economics before politics.
Year in a Word — Henry Mance kicks off the FT’s Year in a Word series with “Maybot”: “A prime minister so lacking in human features that she soon requires a system reboot.”
Best of the rest
Radically rebuild Europe — Etienne Balibar in Le Monde (in French)
While we talk nuclear weapons, North Koreans go hungry — Kee B Park in The New York Times
Brexit is putting me off this whole ‘will of the people’ idea — Matthew d’Ancona in The Guardian
Democracy and the machinations of mind control — Anthony Barnett in The New York Review of Books
What you’ve been saying
Ellsberg has never stopped campaigning for free speech — letter from Keith Corkan in the UK
“Whistleblowers generate a wide range of feelings and responses, but in terms of spawning debate on a range of topical issues, some of them, like Ellsberg, remain good value, and continue to make an important contribution to the debate about national security and freedom to comment on government policies, during a critical period in which free speech is under threat.”
Comment from Manofiona on Wolfgang Munchau’s column “Lack of eurozone planing outranks Brexit as the EU’s biggest threat”
“The long-term security of the Eurozone requires political integration (of which the banking union is an amuse bouche, prior to the hors d’oeuvre and the subsequent principal dish). President Macron accepts this and has the political authority at home (for the moment) to say so. Mrs Merkel has never been one for big declarations of principle and is now much diminished in political authority. She will not say anything. The current relatively favourable economic circumstances give some breathing space for national governments to fudge the issue of political integration but this will not last. The question of political integration is inescapable.”
Comment from from Stephen T on Lawrence Freedman’s column “Britain faces serious questions on its defence capability”
“Our defence capability (military and diplomatic) has two objectives: to defend ourselves and our commercial interests. In both geography matters. The Brexit that Mrs May and the extreme Tory Brexiteers are leading us towards will diminish our commercial interests in the EU and instead spread them far more widely around the globe. The logical consequence would be to reduce our defense and diplomatic commitment in Europe and boost our diplomatic establishments in the 100 or so non-EU countries of interest and spend far more on our navy and navel air power to project our power around the globe. Since the government is not planning to reduce our defense and diplomatic commitment to Europe, new money (ie tax increases) will have to be found to meet this grandiose global vision.”
Year in a Word: Maybot A cruel nickname, but given Theresa May’s reputation for ruthlessness sympathy was limited
Why Big Tech wants to keep the net neutral A level playing field has boosted the power of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google
Lack of eurozone reform outranks Brexit as the EU’s biggest threat The cyclical recovery has deflected attention from a series of unresolved issues
A revived Russia and the US vie for centre stage Vladimir Putin has made progress in restoring Moscow’s status as a great power
FT View: Poland at the crossroads in relations with Europe A new prime minister should take the opportunity to signal change
FT View: Trade tussle with China tests the global system US, EU and Japan bump up against its entrenched political economy
The Big Read
The Big Read: Catalan election: capturing the middle ground As the region heads to the polls, its rift with central government remains deep. But there is optimism moderates can help heal the wounds