How Netflix almost ruined EU Net neutrality

Now when the debate sparked by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ blog post on net neutrality “Internet Tolls And The Case For Strong Net Neutrality“ has died down and the European Parliament have voted in favour of Net Neutrality and against specialised services, I’d like to take the opportunity to vent my grief a bit. What I say in the header is a tall order, I know. But it is not far off.

First of all, as you might know, when I discuss companies or persons in my blog I don’t mention them by name. This is for several reasons, first of all there is an element of the Golden rule, second the industry is rather small and I hope to continue work in it, and, in the case of Netflix, I don’t want to come across as a disgruntled almost employee. Although, I remain rather unimpressed by Netflix’ EU hiring practises. Further, I think that Netflix doesn’t take their responsibility when it comes to making it simple to be legal on-line seriously. Nor do they go far enough in their actions. This time I felt it was warranted to mention names simply because anything else would have complicated the text beyond means.

But I digress.

In my everyday job I work as Policy advisor to a Member of the European Parliament concentrating on issues like net neutrality, e-commerce, telecommunications, cloud computing to mention a few. This is why I can speak with some certainty of this process since I was involved behind the scenes. And yes, I am a staunch defender of Net neutrality.

I am not going to go into the debate at heart here. The point I hopefully will make is to highlight a view that I often see from US-based companies with EU branches; there is seemingly little or no insight that points of view put forward in the US might affect EU legislation. They also join forces with their EU corporate counterparts in not entirely realising that the European Parliament actually is a parliament with powers and influence.

In his post Mr Hastings made a case for net neutrality and against specialised services, but instead of business, he based his argument on fees for traffic. In his text Mr Hastings state that if telecommunications companies get their way we might not see a new Skype or indeed Netflix again because the fees charged would stop any new ideas from being implemented. Had he stuck to this argument I don’t think there had been any debate; no one wants to be accused of stifling competition, hamper value creation and stop new business from happening.

”Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.” The term was coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu.

But in any case, the impact this ill-timed post had across the Atlantic, where a vote on Net neutrality and Specialised services was taking place, was that it gave the telecommunications companies in Europe wind under their wings and they started to lobby for their point of view; that there is no such a thing as a free lunch, and users must pay for bandwidth. Nothing of which is questionable; but it isn’t the question at hand. Rather the real issue is freedom of doing business. Weaker Net neutrality would make it more difficult to run any business on-line. If the vote had gone a different way Mr Hastings could have had to seriously review his expansion plans for the EU. Is that really what he wanted? This attitude towards the European Parliament is something I frequently see amongst companies, EU & US alike. It is getting better in EU companies, but many US companies whose activities’ spans both sides for the Atlantic seems blissfully unaware of that the European Parliament actually produce legislation that have impact on their business. And if they consider it, they seem to think it is some toy Parliament and when you want to lobby it you just send employees with little or no leverage with the C-suite. Or a VP is coming and is expecting the Parliamentary calendar will change to accommodate them.

Is there really no-one within Netflix that has any view on legislative developments outside the US? Because, the state of net neutrality in the EU will affect Netflix business. Is there no-one that could have advised Mr Hastings to hold off the post to a better time? That maybe a better way to push net neutrality is to speak about preserving, maybe even augmenting, freedom to do business? And is there no one that can enlighten him about the importance of the European Parliament? It governs over 500 million citizens which makes it one of the biggest parliaments in the world. 80% of national EU legislation emanates from the European Parliament. OK, someone say; this post was published on Netflix USA Canada blog and was not at all aimed at EU. This is correct and true, but even if all business is local, corporate standpoints for international corporates rarely are. And if someone high-profiled like Mr Hastings speaks on a relative controversial issue this will have repercussions far beyond what one had identified from the beginning.

The Telecoms Single Market proposal (the proposal that was voted on) will now be reviewed by the Council of the European Union. The Council representatives are expected to adopt a final position on the Telecoms regulation later in 2014. Personally, I hope that the Council maintain the safeguards to protect net neutrality and prohibit network discrimination in Europe. This includes ensuring that this principle can be effectively enforced. Achieving this has not been easy, and in case Netflix wonders, the battle isn’t won. In in the meantime, in the relative vacuum that will be during the election period, we are certainly not helped by blog posts of the likes of Mr Hastings.

Swedish and Norwegian men say No Thanks to male only panels

As you know I am not a proponent of affirmative actions to get more women on board (yes, I mean this in the word’s widest meaning). Quite on the contrary. But when asked what I propose as solution to the sorry situation I have been lost for words. Because in order to achieve a change it is privileged class that has to initiate it, and why would anyone voluntarily give up power and influence? So maybe affirmative action was the only way forward?

And then, lo and behold, a miracle happened – someone alerted (Thank you, Megan Browne!) me to this campaign: Men say No, Thanks. The campaign has been going since November 2013 and has this far attracted 200 signatures in Sweden only. According to the Tacka nej-website:

The idea is that men, when they are invited to speak at a conference or participate in a debate panel, will ask whether women are represented on the programme. If not, they will turn the invitation down say no, thanks.

- There is a lot of talk about gender equality, but we decided to do something about it. This kind of initiatives can make organizers to really find the best and most competent persons to put on stage, Fredrik Wass co-founder of #TackaNej in Sweden.

In particular I like the approach that it is competence, not sex, that is the important and deciding factor.

Our goal is to turn Say No, Thanks into a Say Yes, Please yes to more female speakers and more diversity in debates and conferences.

A sentiment I fully support, change through Yes is better and achieves far far-reaching results.

Now, whom will take this up elsewhere? I sincerely hope it will not remain a regional two-country initiative.

10 tips for better Social Public Relations

Yes, folks Social Public Relations is my own invention because by now I think the two should merge. And in fact I don’t even have a list of my own 10 top tips, well I do but I have copied it from the great blog Useful Social Media, read them and then tell me – how does these differ from “traditional” PR tips?

1. Listening
2. Nurturing
3. Sharing
4. Leadership
5. Engaging
6. Responsiveness
7. Patience
8. Writing
9. Newsworthy
10. Unpretentious

No, in no way do I want to belittle or waft away Social Media by claiming plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. On the contrary, I think Social Media is for us communicators what Dewey decimal system is for librarians. And being born sociable I love the instantness, the response, the contacts, the networking, the chattiness, the learning…

I’ve said it before and I say so again, finally PR and Corporate Communications is where it should be – in a position where we can have a conversation with our stakeholders be they internal or external.

But what we tend to forget in our strife to be adaptable, to ensure that traditional PR still has a value, that we that have passed the horrible 30′s still think we have a market value, to show that subject matter insights still matter; you name it is that Social media are tools. Properly used they can be devilish efficient. But, if we have nothing to say of value; well, much as it pains any chatty person to say so but then old fact remains:

Silence is Golden.




Is this the worst lobbying campaign – ever?

No, it probably isn’t but it’s recent which is why I react. Still, the campaign might beat the pens I wrote about in the post” Why are there so many bad Public Affairs campaigns?”

emmaWhat makes it so fascinating is that it comes from a gathering of interest groups that should know something about communications: European Federation of Journalists, European Magazine Media Association, European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and European Publishers Council. It is a pity they went down this road because they are trying to achieve something that is extremely dear and close to my heart –safeguarding freedom of press and public access to documents. So it makes it all together sadder when they mess up like they do. It started last Friday, when a representative for one of these groups called and wanted to follow-up on their sending this petition. Nothing strange about that, on the contrary it’s quite advisable to do. Only she called on a speaker phone and from what seemed to be a child care centre filled with energetic and happily playing children, loud happy children, which gave the phrase “dynamic phone call” a whole new meaning.

And I don’t want to be arrogant – but the office in-box is filled with petitions and requests and proposals and without any doubt they are all highly important and affect a lot of people. It is a question about time and possibilities and taking into account our constituency’s interest; since they elected us on a programme they can expect us to work according to that programme first and foremost. This issue here is, however, right up our tree.

During the Friday conversation I asked the person on the other side of the phone to resend the petition and please, in the email could she write a couple – max. 10 – bullet points of what they want to achieve and what they hope we would do? And I would see to that the message was put in the hands of the Member of European Parliament I work with. Needless to say, nothing came.

This morning another person called from the same constellation and for the same follow-up. So either they are eager or they have limited internal communications. It was good that he did because now, finally, I got the petition and the bullet points and it is worse than I could imagine. Interesting is that that they don’t propose any amendments or changing the writing of the article in question, they are simply asking us to sign a petition. To what avail? What do they think they will achieve with that petition?

A simple well thought through campaign starting earlier in the process and not two days before the vote, could have changed the outcome of the vote. Now, the results and the future state of press freedom are anybody’s guess…

On-line cross-cultural networking – tricky, difficult and delicate…

I have just applied to a great role with a fantastic company. On paper the role is “mine:” corporate communications dealing with Internet, Net Neutrality, Intellectual Property, and Telecommunications, copyright and regulatory issues. How cool isn’t that?

The position is in an US Company, but would be based in the Netherlands, and I have no direct contacts into this company, which I know of that is, hence the cross-cultural networking.

After submitting my application I saw that the hiring manager visited my LinkedIn profile and a couple of days later the same did two recruiters from the company in question. Cool, I thought and waited for the mail that never came. Then I read an article about the company which sparked my interest even more so I put some time into a letter further explaining my enthusiasm and trying my best to answer the basic question all future employers ask a possible hire: What added value would you have to the company?

And yes, I subsequently mailed this letter. It was during the weekend and since then – nothing.

Now what do I do? Start looking through my LI connections hoping someone might introduce me? Cry, swear, be disappointed and move on?

Affirmative action for Women in the EU – No, thank you!

The other day I attended an event in Brussels. In a networking town like this, and Washington DC, that is nothing unusual. It was an industry event, so people representing their companies working with public affairs and in IT and Internet in general. So relatively ”new” industries. That isn’t anything exceptional either. No what was so exceptional was that of the maybe 50 people present four (4) were women. Of which one woman was married to one of the guys attending the event.

Yes, you read correct – out of 50 people, 3 were women working in the industry. And this is a fairly normal room in this town.

I find the figures remarkable and the situation so wrong I can’t begin to explain. And probably shouldn’t because, to quote President Reagan “You can’t print what I think.” But I still don’t want legislation remedying this.

Why don’t I want legislation to deal with this unbalance? First of all, affirmative action is discrimination, it departs from the principle that equal rights are always right. Affirmative actions leads to polarization, collectivization, and identity politics. Should increasingly educated women, all over the world, which on our own merits, sometimes against all odds, made it through tough educations be discarded in a future where men find it increasingly difficult to keep up? Because, one must see that affirmative action goes both ways.

These irrelevant criteria – gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, the list is endless, which helps individuals to advance their careers, will also be the defining criteria should this individual fall. Individual skills won’t matter, these criteria will still define the individual and spill over on the group as such, i.e. a woman gets on in her career to through affirmative action, if she fails ALL women become incompetent. Affirmative action also suppose that individuals are exchangeable which clearly we are not. So, in my case, as long as we have a woman on our team, we’re fine. Does that even begin to sound right to you?

Finally, there is the minor detail about property and private ownership, a privately owned company, indeed any company shouldn’t be required to hire any one else than the person they believe can do the job.

Still, 3 professional women in a room of 50 professionals seems, well – unbalanced.

May I interest you in a vote?

It was when reading this article “The 21 Principles of Persuasion”

n Forbes and I got to number 4: “You have to be Interested to Persuade” that my mind wandered to the European Parliament election and the low election participation. As a communicator and hired by the PirateParty, election campaigns and election participation is something close to my heart right now.

It is human nature that when we are interested in something the threshold for acting and learning is lower than if you are not interested. Question is, how you/we interest, engage for want of better word, someone – in this case a reluctant voter in something s/he isn’t interested in? I mean the EU electorate are asked to act once, for approximately 1 hour, every five years. On paper this seems like it could be doable, still the fact is that for a majority of European voters this hour once per five years is insurmountable. I have no obvious solution or explanation to the fact that the EU elections are so unimportant to so many people. Other than that “all politics are local,” which actually is the case with the EP politics since 80% of the national legislation emanates from the European Parliament.

True, participation in elections is a global trend so there is no reason to why the EP elections should be any different. But the diminishing participation is so much higher in “our” elections than in other elections.

Is it a question about branding? National parliaments have automatically a stronger brand, than the European Parliament. Is it a question about distance? It is felt that “Brussels” is too far away for any local activity? The only question I can answer with a resounding yes; is the question if the Members of the European Parliament are unknown to the larger audience.

Any ideas?