Chile: A Leader in Net Neutrality Legislation

Chile is the leading country for Internet and broadband penetration in Latin America. While Chile’s success can be attributed to its relatively high GDP rate, it is also the result of a highly competitive telecommunications market supported through a combination of government and private investment. Indeed, relative to other nations, Chile has seen a significant amount of investment in the telecommunications sector. Most notably, however, Chile has been the first country in the world to implement net neutrality legislation.

In July 2010, in a nearly unanimous decision of one hundred votes to one abstention, the Chilean Congress passed a set of amendments to the General Telecommunications Law: “’No [ISP] can block, interfere with, discriminate, hinder, nor restrict the right of any Internet user of using, send, receive, or offer any content, application, or legitimate service through the Internet, as well as any activity or legitimate use conducted through the Internet’. The law also has articles that force ISPs to provide parental control tools, clarify contracts, guarantee users’ privacy and safety when surfing, and forbids them to restrict any liberty whatsoever”.235

One of the most significant and meaningful factors in passing this law was the role of the citizen-organized group, Neutralidad Sí. For years, Neutralidad Sí petitioned representatives from Congress about the importance of having such a law in place to guarantee the rights of users. Prior to this, they “worked to reveal that major ISPs were performing acts contrary to the principle of net neutrality, like blocking ports that allow the exchange of P2P files”.236 Through a campaign facilitated by social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and other forums, Neutralidad Sí was the primary force behind passing this legislation. This speaks to the potential of not only grassroots organization, but the strength of the public voice. It is considered a major feat for net neutrality advocates worldwide.

In order to further position Chile as a compelling point of comparison, it is useful to consider the steady growth of their telecommunications market. Internet use follows a revealing pattern in the months prior to the passing of the law: “Connections with speeds higher than 2 Mbps saw more growth in the first half of 2010 than other connections, which would explain the proliferation of video transmissions and other applications that demand broadband. The number of mobile broadband connections grew by 40 percent over the first six months of 2010”.237 When considering this data, it makes sense that net neutrality legislation was encouraged by citizens — the spreading use of peer-to-peer file sharing in particular illuminated the importance of having a neutral network.

In response to the new legislation, Felipe Morandé, Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications stated: “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... [the law] placed our country at the forefront in the world in terms of net neutrality”.238 Unlike other Latin American countries, Chile’s Fondo de Desarrollo de Telecomunicaciones (FDT) is a telecommunications development fund financed from the national budget rather than through levies on telecommunications operators.239 It offers subsidies to private companies willing to invest in special projects.240 Needless to say, government support is a fundamental component to Chile’s broadband deployment.

Chile is not unlike Canada when it comes to broadband strategy. In addition to government support, Chile is “viewed as a role model by the international business community for its competitive free market approach”.241 Still, in the name of developing broadband, Chile saw the importance of mandating net neutrality. Chile’s broadband market is still quite underdeveloped, and major upfront investment is needed in order for the telecommunications sector to grow. Given the country’s market-based approach, this will likely come in the form of private investment from incumbents, in addition to measures like the FDT. Thus, it will be useful for Canada to see how the telecommunications sector develops and grows in the context of this new net neutrality regulation.

What Canada can also learn from Chile is the potential for citizens to call attention to net neutrality. Chile’s strong civil society enabled them to apply pressure to government to make changes to telecommunications regulation. This is proof that grassroots organizing by citizens can influence government and shift power away from corporate interests. This type of action is also possible in Canada if we continue to apply pressure through advocacy. According to Morandé, the net neutrality law “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”.242 This political will can also be exerted in Canada through further organization and coordination.

Endnotes

234. Borrell, L., Gomez, I., Fernandez, G., Kende, M., & Allen, J. (2010, January 11). Strategic review of broadband regulatory policy in Chile. Analysys Mason. Report for the Susecretaria de Telecommunications (Subtel).

235. Thinq_. (2010, July 14). Chile first to enact network neutrality law. Thinq_ Web News. Retrieved from http://www.thinq.co.uk/2010/7/14/chile-first-enact-net-neutrality-law/

236. Vinas, S. (2010, September 4). Chile: First Country to Legislate Network Neutrality. BHRP. Retrieved from http://www.humanrightsblog.com/blog/2010/09/10/chile-first-country-to-le...?

237. Bibolini. L. (2010, February). Chile – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts (9th ed.). Paul Budde Communications Publishing Ltd.

238. Supra note 236.

239. Supra note 237.

240. Ibid.

241. Ibid.

242. Supra note 236.

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