Protests lining the streets of Mexico City on April 23 surround a particularly controversial telecom reform bill proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto that would overhaul the telecom industry in Mexico in a host of ways. But the bill has made enemies for Peña Nieto across Mexico’s economic divide.
VISUAL CONTEXT: MEXICAN MOBILE USE
Protesters claim that the reform bill amounts to nixing net neutrality in Mexico, that it puts too much power in the hands of regulators to decide pricing and access to internet and airwaves. Indeed, Reuters reports that the bill, proposed in March, that is currently under review in the Senate titled “Ley Federal de Telecomunicaciones y Radiodifusión” gives the country’s regulatory body — the Federal Telecommunications Institute — sweeping powers to order companies to sell assets, revoke concessions and share networks and infrastructure.
Activists oppose legislation that gives any body — government-based or corporate — more power over how and when the internet is supplied to users, which is the core issue of net neutrality. An uprising spread through social media has called upon web users to join using the hashtag #EPNvsInternet to express solidarity against the bill that will significantly lessen web users’ abilities to access web, cell, and radio waves during times and in places deemed “silent zones” such as rallies or public protests. See the video below created by protesters to try to gather attention towards the bill:
But aside from public ire at the bill’s narrowed access reform, the bill has also aggravated the rivalry between Peña Nieto and the country’s richest communications tycoon — the second richest man in the world after Bill Gates — Carlos Slim Helú, head of América Móvil and the majority of Mexico’s telecommunications industry. His son, Carlos Slim Domit — now chairman of the empire — has publicly denounced the bill that would give the government control over how telecom companies operate so much so that the Slims’ dominance in the sector will be threatened. Of course, government officials have come forth to say that the bill is designed to promote more competition among telcos, while the Slims see it as strangling their firm grasp on the industry.
None of this is to say that Mexico’s telecom industry is not in need of reform — indeed, it has plagued users with high prices and low quality for years. But critics of the bill say that there must be more of a blend between government-based control of broadband, and user access. Sections of the proposed reform would give the Mexican government leeway to request data and surveillance information about user activity without court orders, according to reports. The debate around government web surveillance has been raging since Edward Snowden’s leaks regarding the U.S. NSA’s data-gathering practices, and world leaders gather this week in Brazil to discuss the future of internet governance.
Sao Paulo is a fitting location for the NetMundial conference as Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was one of the most vocal world leaders to be outraged at the reports that the U.S. government spies on her personal communications. The summit in Sao Paulo this week will, in part, aim to determine how the distribution of internet domain names occurs, moving forward. Thus far, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority’s members have been appointed by the U.S., and a global group for web governance is the goal of this week’s meeting. Regardless of whether or not the summit comes to a conclusion, it appears to be a big week for potential reform in web governance.