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Her spinmeisters are doing their best to create an upbeat image for Commissioner Kroes. But even if she is endowed with all of Hogwarts' magic, net neutrality will be tough trick to pull off.

Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, dropped a surprise when she spoke to the European Parliament this week. Mrs Kroes, who is nickneamed Steelie Neelie, might as well have dropped a bomb. She indicated that the European Commission will propose a guarantee for net neutrality in legislation forthcoming later this year.

Speaking to the European Parliament's Internal Market committee, Mrs Kroes departed from her prepared text, that would have been a list of 'progress and concerns' and she sprung into an apparently ad hoc speech calling for a new and different political discussion on the digital agenda and the single market for telecoms:

"I want us to show citizens that the EU is relevant to their lives. That we made the digital rules catch up with their legitimate expectations. [...] I want you to be able to say that you saved their right to access the open internet, by guaranteeing net neutrality."

The net neutrality promise appears to be one a package of Internet measures that the Commission is working on. The other elements include mobile roaming and cybercrime.

Neelie Kroes stated her intention to deliver this package, through the European Parliament by next spring - just in time for the European elections:

"It is my belief that we can deliver such a package - this full, final, package - around Easter 2014. Imagine that." Her words were couched in the usual rhetoric about jobs and the benefits of a digital economy for young and old.

Imagine indeed! Before we get too excited about the prospect of a guaranteed neutral network in Europe, we should first consider the politics and what is really going on here.

The main constituency of Mrs Kroes and her DG is the telecoms industry. It is clearly not in favour of net neutrality legislation, and the European Commission appeared to be listening to them. Until this statement last week, the European Commission was not looking at all likely to produce net neutrality legislation.

So what has changed? At this point, I am not sure. But there has to be a political motive. My take on it suggests two possibilities. Either the telecoms industry has upset the Commission - maybe by not adapting to the competitive access environment and retaining monopoly markets; or the Commission is giving the European Parliament a good news gift for younger voters, prior to the European elections.

Even so, there are many hurdles to be jumped yet. Neelie Kroes only hinted at forthcoming legislation. We do not even know yet whether it has been drafted. It will then have to go through the European Parliament, and as we know, anything can happen when it gets there. It could be the Telecoms Package Part 2. (See the Telecoms Package sections and this paper American University College of Law: Where Copyright Enforcement and Net Neutrality Collide )

Neelie Kroes' dynamic re-thinking of the telecoms single market is very welcome and long overdue. The Commission has been stuck in an economist-driven rut on telecoms for a very long time and if Mrs Kroes can give it a shake up, we must applaud.

But there's one thin I'm just not really sure if her spinmeisters have got right. That is Mrs Kroes re-vamped image.

Neelie Kroes is a highly regarded, hardworking and ethical Commissioner. And she can be tough. She was the first to take on the music collecting societies in her previous role as Competition Commissioner. They've re-drawn her image as a cross between Miss Jean Brodie and Harry Potter's Professor Minerva McGonagall. It may endow her with Hogwarts' magic, but it also risks turning her into a comedy show - whilst that may help to spread the message, it may also detract from the seriousness of her task.

The drawing of Neelie Kroes was taken from the European Commission's new page for uploading Mrs Kroes' speeches, entitled CommentNeelie (Kroes) - Making Speeches Talk.

This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, Steelie Neelie brandishes the net neutrality wand, 1 June 2013. Commercial users - please contact me.

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.  

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