Put the Brakes on the TPP Fast Track


For those who have been following the news, the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, sounds like a great thing.

By Nicholas Adams

The obscene import tariffs Japan places on all the good things from back home can be lifted, not only saving people like you and me large amounts of money but also allowing slightly less mainstream items to become available in your High Street as they will no longer be penalized at customs.

Another part of the TPP allows governments to fast track policies through, so that something as simple as reducing the tariff on perfume, for example, will not take months of the Congressional/Diet/Parliamentary equivalent of the respective countries kicking the idea around and trying to find ways to graft self-rewarding bonuses onto it.

End result: the cost of living goes down, governments waste less time in actually getting things done, and international trade thrives. Sounds like a win for everybody to me. So why am I saying “no?”

As it goes with many well intentioned government policies, some nefarious types hell-bent on getting what they want through any means possible have been unraveling the TPP and have found a weakness they can exploit. However, let’s backtrack slightly and see why.

Time for a quick visit to America, Land of the Free. Comcast and Time Warner happen to be two of the biggest cable internet providers in America. Between them they control enough of the domestic internet provisioning services in America to render the other players borderline insignificant. Given their massive coverage, they make a fair bit of money as a result. So far, so good. A perfect example of capitalism in action.

However, some bright spark came up with a new way to extort even more money from their already lucrative position. By interfering with the way internet traffic flows their networks, they have the ability to artificially slow down specific websites. How is this useful for them? Turn it on its head and you have a perfect racketeering model—pay us whatever charges we dream up and we will not interfere with delivering your website’s content.

Fortunately some people in the US cottoned on to this and have been opposing them, as but the cable companies seem to think this is such a good idea, they have spent a serious chunk of change trying to make it legal. From “contributing” more than many Americans make annually towards the campaigns of certain members of Congress to spending more than many of the world’s elite make annually on lobbying in 2014, they seem pretty well determined to get this by hook or by crook. Even after their defeat at the FCC late February, they are still at it.

“This is America,” you say, “I am in Japan; what does this have to do with me or the TPP?” Well, two things really.

Firstly, the fast track policy in the TPP allows pretty much anything to be fast tracked without debate by a non-elected board. “Pretty much anything” could be used to include the legalization of the extortion process mentioned earlier, not to mention a few other potentials such as forcing sites to remove allegedly infringing content from the web without a court order, creating harsh criminal penalties for journalists and whistleblowers and further punishing Internet users who share copyrighted material, even without any personal gain. Should these propositions be tabled, I am sure the non-elected board would be completely neutral and ignore any incentives offered by any of the cable companies not to mention the other major corporations backing this.

Secondly, what goes in the U.S.—as far as economic policies and intellectual property rights are concerned—often goes on the fast track to being accepted here. This means that if the cable companies in the U.S. are able to essentially enforce toll roads for all web site owners then it will not be too long before the same thing happens both here and in other countries too. Would you like to see your favorite websites operating at speeds rendering them barely usable if they choose not to/can’t afford to pay up? Me neither.

The TPP and even the fast track clause are a great ideas but their successors will come if we wait patiently. However, once we surrender the internet, there is no turning back. To get involved and have your say in the future of the internet, visit www.battleforthenet.com/internetvote

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher or Tokyo Weekender as a whole.

Main Image: Backbone Campaign on Flickr, used under CC

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