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Cyber-Democratization of Democracy
Talking about democracy seems hard these days. Every single country have failed to excercise it. Digital Economy Bill, ACTA, Sinde Law, HADOPI, Manzanero Law, airport authorities searching devices. No data is protected only surveilled. No parlament is guaranteeing their citizens their protection against corporate interest. It would really be the end if it weren’t for what we can do with, and as, an Internet.
The Internet is one of the most important spaces where real democracy takes place. So people around the world – depending on their level of connectivity – are defending in different ways, different parts of this infrastructure. From Mexico to Sweden, Venezuela to Iran and many other. I would’t be afraid to say that all internauts are together in this one, even if we all interpret it differently.
If you ask me: what we are fighting for? I really couldn’t answer that we are doing it for democracy but for the Internet as democratic system. Unfortunately the access to this super functional system depends of connectivity and here is where I think the case of Mexico is interesting. It is necessary to understand all the implications that the internet have in places like Mexico, where the connectivity defines democracy in all possible levels.
Mexico is a country with a population over 100 million where connectivity is controlled by a monopoly called Telcel, owned by the richest man of the world: (Measuring the Information Society 2010 Executive Summary Page x)
So yes, Internet access and connectivity is a luxury in Mexico, one that takes work and effort to maintain for most of the society, as you have to pay your cellphone bill too. For example I pay 20 euros for a 1MB connection of internet and around 48 euros for 200 mins of mobile and 3G. So last year when the government tried to tax the internet with 3%, together with cable services and mobile services, mexicans jumped and start fighting not for internet per se, but actually to democratize the access to telecommunications, for all.
The pressure from the civil society sparked at Twitter and it grew to the point that internauts had to go to the Senate to explain to the government what the Internet means, using banal apple metaphores. The pressure and civil action of #internetnecesario got so big that the tax was stopped at least for the internet connection service and only, if your service was not hooked to Triple Play. However, the discussion have started and lots of people are more involved in the discussion about media and telecoms since the demonstrations held back in October of 2009. They were beautiful Really
Thanks to this event, a lot of people articulate the importance of connecting more people in a more cohesive way. Which includes regulating the anti-market generated by Telmex and open up the competition in order to fill the gaps that the monopoly leaves behind.
After this, a lot of debate and on-/off-line protest and debate arouse around pretty much every single law related with telecom, intellectual property, piracy and data. Yes, we have reacted around every single event but we haven’t been that good with pre-emptive protests or trying other channels. For good or bad and like other developing nations, the actions happens through Twitter mostly.
Anyway, during the negotiations of ACTA in Mexico back in january, a protest were held to demand transparency outside the Hotel Fiesta Americana, where the meeting took place.. Independent blogs and citizen media have been covering the development of the treaty and lately traditional national newspapers. Now, #ACTA is a daily trending topic in Mexico and it merges often with other topics worth contesting, like the Manzanero Law that enables authorities to prosecute piracy ex-oficio and is surrounded by dangerous statements of the industry lobbyist and politcians urging to regulate file-sharing and the internet at all.
One of the answers to this is a blog called openacta.org. The main object was to open up the discussion and demand, well, to open the ACTA. The dynamic so far has been to use information against itself by building news-streams of mainstream news that construct some kind of answers to their recent unreasonable laws and statements, trying to spark some dialogue about freedom, digital rights and democracy in relation to the global trend of controlling internet to the benefit of the industries that depend of the explotation of intellectual property. OpenActa also investigates legislative action in Congress and Senate through the daily monitoring of their initiatives and votes and sometimes have the really boring task of delivering petitions to Senators.
The mexican telecommunications ecosystem is really moving fast, even though our embarasing level of connectivity. Within a week we just had RENAUT – a controversial law that require to fingerprint cellphone users in order to combat organized crime – that almost disconnect up to 20 million users that refused to do so. In which other democracy do you substitute legal procedures with threats of removing connectivity? This was followed by a striking news from TIME Magazine announcing a government crackdown on Twitter under the same national security arguments. And keeps going, same week, lobbyist from the industry have been appearing in mainstream media calling for a “gradual response” (they don’t say 3 strikes) bill that regulate file-sharing. Finally, today the debate around the new Telecommunications and Audiovisal Content Federal Bill struck the internet.
As I write this article, a new Telecomunications and Audiovisual Content Bill is being discussed in the Congress, and as much as it offers all the basis to democratize the access to telecoms and even enables competition and promotes the respect to net neutrality principles, it also lacks a component that can guarantee the access to an internet where the most important thing is not “content” and stronger protection to freedom of speech rights. The next days are going to be interesting for sure.
As someone worded it perfectly in a recent discussion: “internet needs to be free, but first we need internet. 80% don’t have it”. So this is what we are fighting for. Rich countries like Sweden pay less for telecom access than developing countries like Mexico. If you consider that we have 50 million people living in poverty and around 19 million in extreme poverty it is obvious where the priority is.
Connectivity do define the state of democracy of a society.
So Sweden is the benchmark for connectivity. Until a few years ago Europe was a model to look for when speaking about democracy. However, The Pirate Bay Trial, HADOPI, Digital Economy Bill, Sinde Law, etcetera, have undermined this status Europe used to have as a role for democracy. An this is also where a country like Mexico with serious infrastructure and democracy disadvantage. level up and join the rest of the internet, to fight for democracy as a common interest.
It is going to be interesting to experience how the mexican society act and defend both, the democratization of internet and the internet as democratic system.
Living in the streets of Mexico City and on the internet, she is interested in understanding the configurations and effects created when society, information, pop culture, intellectual property and power collide in México. She has been collaborating with net activist projects like OpenActa and the Physical Agents of the Internet (A.F.I.) ‚ and writting about information and politics in the citizen blog Critica Pura.