Iceland used to be regarded as a “model” nation and it was basked in the accolade of being the first to charge for using the internet. In 1996, the year for which research was carried out, it had more computers than the entire US.
Now, the Icelandic government is introducing a time limit for surfing the internet, a policy that some argue could be the beginning of the end for web freedom.
According to AktieTor, the Icelandic media organisation that produced the report “Access to the net: Changing times”, traffic on the internet is supposed to drop to 65% of its normal level when the number of users accessing the net reaches a certain point.
Five users per second = 65% traffic
Using “platforms not owned or controlled by a private organisation” (like major telecoms companies and ISPs) will trigger the application of the time limit. Over the longer term, the idea is that users will reach a point where their service becomes relatively expensive as the state takes over costs, though no time frame has been stated for this.
Hugh Ciarne, the managing director of data security firm Psiphon, says it is a dumb move. He says, “This move is in direct opposition to net neutrality, the principle that all content on the internet should be treated equally no matter what is being broadcast. When a regulation like this comes into play, it gives the government the power to pick and choose what services and content it wants to allow and what it does not. In recent times, this has happened with telecoms regulation and soon the government could interfere with content creators like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.”
Ciarne explains, “What this is really about is governments locking down the internet to suit their needs rather than meeting the needs of citizens. The rule is clearly just a solution to another problem. The government won’t stop people from using the internet, in fact, it seems to be intending to put them out of business. With three servers in Iceland, people will still be able to send email and Whatsapp messages at the same speed as they do now.
“Using a government arbitrator like the (telecoms) Thorntsson Trust to manage the internet could have serious consequences for internet security.”
When it comes to political issues, which is obviously what this move is all about, the new rule will not allow internet users to access net neutrality sites for a set time limit, nor will it force companies to pay to have their content accessible throughout the country, which many have pointed out would be a hindrance to free speech.
The first week
The “Access to the net: Changing times” report carried out by AktieTor claims that not only will Iceland stop internet access speeds for those accessing websites not owned by a private organisation, but that many will only be able to access sites that use data from the government, a move that will lead to other internet speed problems.
Eva Birnkrant, a partner and head of telecoms research at ABI Research, said, “The programme for regulating internet access specifically, and platforms like Google or Telegram, is more about keeping a lid on how much investment and free traffic it generates, and then benefiting in the future. But while overall the implementation of the programme will set an important legal precedent, the impact on citizens will be limited because it will only affect one million households (of a population of almost 500,000).”
Nowadays, internet use is considered a right in Iceland and internet service providers use a free filter to slow the speed of network traffic that interferes with the quality of life for customers. The move from a model of openness to a model of controlled freedom could herald in a new era of strict government control on the internet.