Net Neutrality Picking Up Steam in Europe

By Peter Bernstein June 04, 2013

As noted in another item today, net neutrality is a hot topic in the U.S., where Verizon is trying to gut the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) entire net neutrality regime. While it is uncertain whether Verizon will prevail in it legal efforts, it must be noted that “across the pond” in Europe, the opposite is the case. As I pointed out a few days ago, net neutrality is top of mind for Neelie Kroes, the European Commission's vice president in charge of the Digital Agenda. In fact, she had made her feeling quite clear with a proposal for European Commission (EC) consideration.

While Kroes is mindful of the needs and desires of ISPs to get compensation for the use of their networks, particularly when it comes to being able to price their services based on getting a premium for assured quality of service (QoS), she also does not want to see average customers disadvantaged. Put in simple terms, the proposal is that ISPs could offer premium services at premium prices but that basic service should offer "best effort" Internet equally to any product that is using the network. This would include thing like VoIP and video streaming services. While competitive in nature, especially VoIP apps and services, Kroes believes “best effort” Internet will meet the needs of most people and leave the flood gates open for innovation.  

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Kroes did not stop there in her attempts to transform what can best be described as the calcified rules that govern communications across the European community. She is requesting more transparency regarding the speeds customers can expect from broadband or mobile data connections so that they are not over-paying for what, in many cases, is not delivered. Greater transparency regarding what services are included are also part of the proposal, along with allowing customers easier means for switching their providers without paying hefty termination fees or other associated charges meant to deter the move to an alternative provider.

The coup de grace is Kroes’s recommendation that ISPs will have to carry any service and product, without throttling or blocking traffic, indiscriminately.  "It's clear to me that many Europeans expect protection against such commercial tactics. And that is exactly the EU safeguard we will be providing. A safeguard for every European, on every device, on every network: a guarantee of access to the full and open internet, without any blocking or throttling of competing services," she said.

As has been pointed out in various quarters, Ms. Kroes has presented a nice wish list, but it is problematic whether the EC even decides to put this up for a vote in the European Parliament and Council. There is also lots of speculation that the recommendations are likely to be either pared down or broken up for separate votes. Net neutrality is a slippery slope to try and climb, no matter which side of the Atlantic one resides on. Even mighty Google had previously given up the fight to get a pan-European effort put in place.  

While the Kroes recommendations are not quite totally Solomon-like, the recognition that ISPs should have some control over the use of their networks might just be the carrot that helps this fly. Kroes believes in the urgency of getting this done. However, it is a long road yet to be traveled, with plenty of pot holes along the way. 

This is a critical issue that does in fact impact everyone, and it will be interesting to see if the politicians are willing to place their bets on net neutrality as the best path forward, tinker around the edges or leave the status quo.

Edited by Blaise McNamee
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