European Commission Wants Answers On Net Neutrality
The Commission’s consultation follows findings of widespread service throttling
The European Commission has launched its second consultation on net neutrality, with the aim of collecting more specific information on the issue, following an investigation that found European network providers frequently restrict services such as Internet telephony and peer-to-peer services.
The consultation is expected to result in practical recommendations that may pave the way for future Internet neutrality legislation.
‘Lack of choice’
“Today there is a lack of effective consumer choice when it comes to Internet offers,” said EC vice president Neelie Kroes in a statement. “I will use this consultation to help prepare recommendations that will generate more real choices and end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe.”
At issue is whether network operators have the right to charge certain content providers, such as the BBC, for premium network access, which would mean rivals’ content could see poorer performance. A related issue is whether operators may restrict customers from using certain services, such as Skype or peer-to-peer transmissions.
Transparency is also a critical factor, since users often don’t know what performance the provider is actually delivering. The Commission is also looking at whether users are free to switch away from providers that impose restrictions.
The Commission’s consultation will seek the views of “all interested public and private parties”, including fixed and mobile Internet service providers, Internet content and application providers, equipment manufacturers, transit providers, investors, public authorities, as well as consumers and their associations, the EC said.
It will seek stakeholders’ views on Internet traffic management, including congestion management, managed services and privacy issues, transparency and interconnection issues between network operators.
European Commission recommendations are without legal force but do have political weight, and could pave the way for future legislation.
Kroes has not set a timetable for when the recommendations will be given, but the consultation closes on 15 October.
Services blocked, throttled
Last year the Commission concluded its first, more general consultation on the issue, as a result of which it asked the Body of European Regulators of European Communications (BEREC) to investigate Internet traffic management.
The results of BEREC’s investigation, published in May, found that the most frequently reported restrictions were the blocking or throttling of peer-to-peer traffic on both fixed and mobile networks and the blocking of Internet telephony traffic on mobile networks.
The report estimated that between 20 percent and 50 percent of European Internet users have contracts that allow providers to restrict services.
BEREC’s study prompted the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) earlier this month to demand that the Commission introduce net neutrality legislation of the kind recently passed in the Netherlands.
“It is alarming to see that one in every two Europeans may not have the option to use Voice-Over-IP services on their mobile broadband service, that two in three Europeans may be subject to illegitimate discriminations on their Internet connection due to their Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) commercial decision to focus resources on specialised services, or that many ISPs are prioritising specific content as a general practice and especially during peak times,” said BEUC in an open letter to the Commission.
“BEREC’s findings provide clear evidence that urgent legislative action is necessary in order to ensure that all ISPs are offering open, neutral broadband services to access the Internet to all European consumers.”
Ahead of a legislative solution, BEUC said the Commission should work with regulators to make it easier for users to switch ISPs, to ensure better transparency practices, and to propose more stringent Quality of Service (QoS) recommendations for Internet access services.
In May the Netherlands became the first European country to pass net neutrality legislation, preventing service providers from blocking or throttling services that run over their networks. The move followed an attempt last year by Dutch network operator KPN to institute charges for third-party applications such as Skype that competed with its own services.
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