EC Nixes Pure Net Neutrality
8:30 AM -- Neelie Kroes (or Steely Neelie, as we prefer to call her), the European Commission 's vice president for the Digital Agenda, looks like she's made her mind up on the issue of "net neutrality," with marketing transparency and free-flowing competition the most suitable solution.
Crucially, under Kroes's proposals, service providers will not be forced to offer unrestricted services. One could argue, then, that net neutrality in its pure form is set to be sidelined in Europe.
Kroes issued a statement late Tuesday that sets out her position -- you can read it here.
Basically, she is proposing that service providers must make it absolutely clear what consumers are buying -- realistic average downstream and upstream speeds, precise data caps (rather than vague "fair usage" limits), whether any applications are blocked or throttled -- and make it very easy for consumers to change providers. In that way, "consumers [can] vote with their feet," writes Kroes.
She believes this approach can work (if implemented correctly in each market, of course) because a study by Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) , details of which were released Tuesday, found that "most, if not all" ISPs in European Union member states offered at least one service that was without restrictions on data consumption and application usage. What is lacking, the BEREC study concluded, is effective consumer choice.
Kroes, then, believes that people should be able to decide whether they want an unrestricted, open Internet experience or one that has very clearly defined limitations that would cost less. Kroes proclaimed:
- "I do not propose to force each and every operator to provide full Internet … If consumers want to obtain discounts because they only plan to use limited online services, why stand in their way? And we don't want to create obstacles to entrepreneurs who want to provide tailored connected services or service bundles, whether it's for social networking, music, smart grids, eHealth or whatever. But I want to be sure that these consumers are aware of what they are getting, and what they are missing."
So, the plan is to make it easier to switch "service providers, and service offers, so that you can choose the market offer that suits you best … I am in favour of an open Internet and maximum choice. That must be protected. But you don't need me or the EU telling you what sort of Internet services you must pay for."
By adopting this approach, Kroes hopes that ISPs will invest and develop services that suit their business and operational strategy, while consumers will have a crystal-clear view of the various options available to them and make the appropriate choice.
Kroes, though, is aware of the concerns surrounding the use of deep packet inspection (DPI) technologies. "Products that limit Internet access often require monitoring of online traffic, through so-called 'packet inspection'. This raises privacy concerns, and we need clear guidance on responsible behaviour by ISPs; and on how consumers can exercise effective and informed control if they opt for such products," noted Kroes.
Recommendations now need to be drawn up in detail and proposed to the EU's Commissioners, a process that will likely take up to a year.
It's clear that Kroes is looking to provide clear guidance and enable the market and consumers to move on without delay while at the same time ensuring that consumers have a positive experience and service providers are not subject to draconian rules. But by not forcing every service provider to provide the "full Internet" experience, Kroes will deny net neutrality.
Kroes does also state, though, that she intends to ensure that consumers can always choose/access a "full Internet" service, "a robust, best-efforts Internet with all the applications you wish." That suggests a market where all services are subject to some sort of restriction will not be tolerated.
However, if market forces are left to rule the day, it could result in an unrestricted, neutral Internet experience for just a sub-set of users -- those who can afford it.
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading