"Who defines the policy for the Information Society in Spain?"
Open letter to Spanish Minister of Industry
His Excellency Mr. Sebastián, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade, forgive us the frankness of our question, but with all due respect and consideration, are you really implementing your own vision of what should be the Information Society in Spain? In other words, is all that is happening, regarding Information Technologies and
Communication in Spain, direct result of your own policies?
These questions, Mr. Minister, that seem rhetorical, are actually important questions are bothering citizens with increasing frequency. In fact, we not only have these questions from the moment you, Mr. Sebastián, were appointed Minister of Industry, we have had them before you took office. Because actions of your government regarding Information Society in Spain, seem closer to the Jesuitic saying of “not a bad word or a good action”, than a true and strong policy directive accepted seamlessly throughout your Cabinet.
Let us substantiate the claim, by listing some facts:
First, during the procedure of acceptation of the Law for Promotion of the Information Society (LISI), as initial draft and then, in the Technical Advisory Council of the Society of Information (CATSI), Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Information Society, Mr. Francisco Ros Perán, tried to impose the (in)famous Article 17bis against what was supported by your predecessor, Minister Montilla. This article enabled Internet censorship in despite of the Constitution and with independence of the judiciary power. Finally, the scandal, the social mobilization and the intervention of Mr Montilla, resulted in the exclusion of this legal aberration from the draft of the law. This important event, however, had no political consequences for its main culprit.
Second, during the procedure of acceptation of the LISI, pressures from Mr. Ros Perán prevented the inclusion of “Net Neutrality” principle into the law, which is basic to achieve the confidence and certainty for electronic commerce, for advancements of technological developments, for safeguarding fundamental rights of citizens in the Network and for carrying out a structural reform that Spain needs to address the current crisis. With Net Neutrality Innovative SMEs and professionals can compete in equal conditions with major telecommunications operators, providing their contents and services on line on their own. This overlook hasn't had or is having any political consequence.
Third, at the end of the procedure of acceptation of the LISI law, Mr. Francisco Ros again, vetoed the possibility of providing Internet access by local corporations as a public service, service that today would also be an immense help to overcome crisis, since the Internet is a basic infrastructure for the development of our economy. This veto could be compared with the ban of public roads in favour of exclusively private ones. Can you imagine a city only with private streets and toll booths on each corner? Can you imagine a city where the suburbs do not have paved roads because it is not profitable for the private sector? Such veto again, has had no political consequence.
Fourthly, for implementation of LISI law, it is clear that broadband is, and should be, a universal service. Once again, Mr. Francisco Ros, based on this consideration that this is not reflected into EU's laws as such (sic.), he argues that neither companies, nor governments, have obligation to comply with this law. We must add, that his Ministry, by the decision of his Secretary of State, is using a definition of "broadband" that is slantedly obsolete, more typical of the era of Bush (father) and of the reactionary ideas of the “Soto Commission”, that it is absolutely different from the definition used by the rest of Europe. While in Europe a line with less than 1 Mb/s downstream or upstream is not considered as "Broadband", the Spanish Government still considers as "Broadband" such ridiculous speeds as 256 Kb/s downstream and 128 Kb/s upstream. Surely something more adequate for Sub-Saharan Africa, than for a country, that it is self-defined as the 8th largest world power. If we add to all that we said before, the exorbitant asymmetry of our ADSL lines, to prevent that anyone be able to provide an electronic service through the contracting of a normal line of Internet, we have a situation which virtually prevents that any citizen can contribute to the Network, as well as any of our SMEs, and professionals, that can't provide an electronic service minimally innovative and competitive. This lack of application of Spanish LISI law has had no political consequence.
Fifth, recently, was removed from the broadband's Spanish legal regulation any reference to ADSL lines with speeds above 30 Mb/s. Again, this polemic decision was made by Mr. Francisco Ros. A decision that the government was forced to withdraw by the EU because it was a barrier to competition in the Spanish market. This hasn't had any political consequence either.
In summary, Mr. Minister, considering the aforementioned points, you give us the impression that some lobbyists are speaking through the mouth and facts of your Secretary of State, without considering that those interests are clearly opposed to those of the citizenship and the national economy. The problem is that it seems that these mark the policy regardless of your opinion. It is clear that your Ministry should impose a radical change of direction, and eliminate these pressures and diversions, directing its course to one policy that should be social, modern and progressive.
A new policy, that would encourage emerging business from SMEs and professionals, that would provide a quality access, and allow Spaniards to work and participate within the Network, contributing ideas and contents with the freedom that is taken for granted in a modern and democratic state.
Mr. Minister, you maintained clearly that "we will not apply any restrictions or regulation, that prevents any expansion, or discourage the use of the Internet, nor we will set limits to the tools that allow the free flow of information" because "This freedom is and has been the key of the net, the source of its growth and popularity." But the truth seems different. In spite of such noble words, there are black clouds over the horizon for Spanish civil liberties on the Internet. Are you responsible for those black clouds?
To quote Karel Vasak, first Secretary General of the International Institute of Human Rights "No rights have ever been achieved without a struggle, they have always been wrestled away from the established power.” But now we are jeopardizing our basic rights in its modern form, the electronic rights. Rights that were already established and enshrined in our constitutions since the Eighteenth century as freedom of speech, thought and conscience, and that the people won with blood, sweat and tears. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
The most worrying thin is, Mr. Minister, that your claims, so consistent with a truly modern and progressive politician, are not followed or implemented by members of your Cabinet such as Mr. Ros. As you can see, he appears to have ideas and projects completely opposed to your own… and the vast majority of Spanish citizens. However we have no doubt thatt Mr. Ros is a competent professional. We know what he is and has been. But we also know that he is not the best person for your cabinet because his policies are high risk ones. Risks that have been materialized in the last months. Let us resume the previous list:
Sixth, We have one of the most egregious examples in the consecration of an indiscriminate payment for the compensation of private copying (levy or tax) for copyrighted works. This money is ultimately distributed unequally and without any control, and among very few of the artists, mostly with contracts with large multinational entertainment companies. The method chosen constitutes a real tax, collected and managed by private entities, for what is the "paper" of our information era: the digital information media. If this had happened in Joannes Gutenberg's epoch and a fee ha imposed on each sheet of paper manufactured. What would have been of the Renaissance? Let us remind you that this "tax" for the transmission of knowledge, software and culture, has been established side by side with the Ministry of Culture. Mr. Minister, who has been responsible for this in your ministry? Is this the modern and progressive policy that your ministry wants to follow? If it is not the case, does it not deserves any political consequence?
Currently, there are values at risk that are very important for citizens and businesses. In particular, legal certainty. Especially needed is the certainty that online rulings are and will be clear, stable, and equal for all. Citizens must be assured that nobody is going be shielded by the "management" of the network, intellectual property or crimes and felonies, to criminalize the technology, or to take control of the Network, and eliminate Net Neutrality. P2P technologies suffered this kind of abuse in its day, and a similar thing happened with GPG / PGP cryptography in the U.S.
Let's be realistic Mr. Minister, far from being a security problem, the network has allowed, as with cases of child pornography, the detection and arrest of perpetrators of these offences. But this is not the only case in which the network is helping the justice. These kind of crimes, if perpetrated in the secretiveness of seedy clubs, or in the privacy of a closed group of "initiated", the guilty would be difficult to identify or to convict. "Out of mind, out of sight", as the saying goes. But, Mr. Minister, the problem is not within the technology or within the Web, it is entrenched in the society and in the society, in other words, within the real world, not within the virtual one, is the place in which we must take the corrective and preventive actions. The Network is no better or worse than real life, it is only a reflection of real life. The Network is not the origin and cause of crime, as neither is a knife, that can be used for cooking or for exercising despicable domestic violence. The problem is not the knife, it is the person wielding it and the solution lies in prevention rather than in banning all kitchen knives. If we place barriers on the Network, these criminals simply will look for other means. But you are hindering the main route communication and opportunity for innovation and for the generation of new business routes for Spanish people.
Seventh, and let us hope the last: despite the fact that you, Mr. Minister, insist that no changes are expected on the horizon of the Internet in Spain, it is true that your Secretary of State, Mr. Francisco Ros, hand in hand with the Ministry of Culture, continue pushing forward, along with major Spanish telecommunications companies, grouped as REDTEL association, an agreement with Collective Management Societies of Copyright that will again axe basic rights of the citizens, a curtailment of rights that would favour a minority pressure group that has a dubious legitimacy to reach such an agreement. An agreement that will be the milestone and a pretext for request a legislative change that would make illegal file sharing via P2P networks, something that today is absolutely legal in Spain. An agreement that, unfortunately, also would have large and negative consequences for culture and economy. In the economic sphere the agreemnt would be reflected in the response of the citizens, as has been warned in some papers by experts, asking for contract rescission of broadband services in mass, or at least, continually changing from one operator to another. This will affect infrastructure investment and thus, relegating Internet in Spain to the bottom of the list in Europe. In the cultural area, we would like to remind you, Mr. Minister, that the majority of the culture is public domain or public in nature, therefore it is not subject to any restriction of copyright. Unfortunately, the public culture, which for us is the real culture, is not to the liking of some because it is not easily sold. But with technological restrictions that are promoted by your Secretary of State, ther would be misappropriation of public property. For how long, Mr. Minister? How can you agree these kind of abuses that go on behind your back and promoted by members of your Cabinet? Do they not deserve any political consequences?
The truth is that, knowing that "there is only room for one captain on any ship" we do not understand how your Secretary of State, Mr. Francisco Ros, can be the person who is setting the direction, of the Ministry's (bad) policies in critical matters has been doing so for years. And doing so against the opinion of Ministers who have held your office before you, and against the minister who is leading now the Ministry, agains his own political party, and against the most of the social base that he is representing. We believe, Mr. Minister, that the decisions of your Ministry are very important to the economy of this country and much more in a time when crisis is holding on with steel claws to Spanish society. We remind you that you, Mr. Minister, are the one ultimately responsible to check the policy of your Ministry and thus, to obtain positive results.
Based on the above please, Mr. Minister Sebastián, we request you replace your Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Information Society, Mr. Francisco Ros Perán as soon as possible with another professional who follows the political line that you have traced publicly in your statements in regard with waiving "any restrictions or regulations that prevent expansion, or discourage the use of Internet”, or “establish limits to the use of tools for free flow of information."
A significant part of the Spanish economy, innovation and civil liberties are at stake without replacement. It is essential for our economic, cultural and democratic development, that information infrastructures continue to enjoy full freedom in Spain.
Thank you very much in advance, Mr. Minister.