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It is characteristic of leaders of  totalitarian states that they tell their cititzens a falsehood as if it were a truth. It is not something we expect of European Commissioners.

But Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information Society, has excelled herself. Speaking yesterday at a breakfast hosted by the IT industry association, EDIMA, she must have sent some of that expensive Brussels coffee spluttering across the table.


In her speech entitled "The Digital

Single Market: a key to  unlock the potential of the knowledge based economy"  at the launch of EDiMA's White Paper on Policy Strategy for the Development of New Media Services 2009-2014  she demonstrated  an understanding of  the notion of net neutrality that is rather different from the interpretation of most experts: 


 "When the telecoms package enters into force,

it will give the European Commission and national regulators new instruments to

ensure that the net will be open and neutral in Europe."

This is contrary to the general understanding that the Telecoms Package is about removing regulation on the network operators, and relying on competition law.  Mrs Reding herself made a plea to the Council on 27 November last year to give the Commission stronger powers to regulate the market, which, as she will also know, was not granted.

Some commentators argue that the lack of regulation is the problem for net neutrality, because it means the operators will act in a non-neutral way, and there will be no possibility for a regulator to deal with it.


"This is a very important, and often underestimated achievement of the reform" 



"and many European Parliamentarians, but also many ministers deserve the credit for having

strengthened the corresponding wording in the package during the legislative process."

Sure, they strengthened the provisions - originally inserted by Mrs Reding - for the network providers to be legally able to   enforce copyright*, and that they may be asked to do so by national governments, such as the Sarkozy regime in France, and Lord Mandelson's proposals in the UK.


 " I would like Europe to make good use of these new tools for enhancing netneutrality."

I beg your pardon  - if ISPs are permitted to block access to Internet services and applications, what can this  mean?


I would therefore like to have, in 2010, a broad debate about how the

Commission could best use these new instruments in the interest of an open

internet and of internet users.  

A broad debate - citizens are as we speak expressing their views to the European Parliament and Mrs Reding, now united with the Council, is expressly ignoring them. Following the Telecoms Package, the only debate she will be able to have is how ISP liability for copyright enforcement will impact on the Internet.


 It is true that Europe's telecoms framework, with its pro-competitive approach,  

Now she remembers that the Telecoms Package is about competition law, and downrating regulation.


has so far been an effective tool for tackling many problems with regard to net neutrality.

This is the  argument put forward by the telcos to avoid regulation


 I have myself indicated that I would be prepared to act on this basis in case of continued blocking of Voice over IP services by certain mobile operators.

She is referring to Skype and its problems with Deutsche Telekom. Here she has a real problem, because Skype is based in Luxenbourg, and she is the Luxembourg Commissioner. Will she help other voip providers, which are non-Luxembourg and do not have a legal budget?


The new telecoms package is in many instances a quite robust answer to such new threats to net neutrality.

A robust threat to net neutrality .              


However, I also know that technology and regulation will evolve further in the years to come.

This is the question that Edima wanted to address at the breakfast, and they have some interesting proposals which she would do well to listen to.


And I plan to beEurope's first line of defence whenever it comes to real threats to net neutrality.

This should be spelt out in more detail in the European Digital Agenda

that is scheduled for adoption in March next year.

This highlights the Commission's steam train agenda, which consistently runs behind Internet time.


There is a song called Slowboat to China . It will be out of copyright in eight years. So will Mrs Reding. Unfortunately, the mess she  risks  creating on the Internet, will not.


Download Viviane Reding's speech  The Digital Single Market: a key to unlock the potential of the knowledge-based economy  to announce  EDiMA's White Paper on Policy Strategy for the Development of New Media Services 2009-2014 - Launch Breakfast Event



*Universal services directive, Article 33.3, Article 20.1 b, 21.3, Access directive Article 9.1, and of course, these amendments are the reason why Amendment 138 is needed.


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2009) Viviane Reding's slow boat to China, http://www.iptegrity.com 2 October 2009 


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. 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.

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