Follow up to the EU Summit on ‘The Open Internet and Net Neutrality in Europe', Brussels, 11 November 2010
Catherine Trautmann wants a Recommendation to address the issue of net neutrality in Europe. Neelie Kroes has said she will take action against operators who cause problems with traffic management.
Following the EU Net Neutrality Summit, the lobbying halls and conferences are now buzzing with the ‘will they, won't they' question. Will the EU take positive steps to protect net neutrality? Will they act against operators who block access to content and services? Or won't they instead just wait and see - until maybe it's all a mess?
One of the most positive and practical suggestions came from MEP Catherine Trautmann. Speaking at the Net Neutrality summit, she has called on the Commission toproduce a Recommendation which would clarify certain provisions in the Telecoms Package. Her intention is that it should address those provisions in the Package which concern traffic management , and which are designed to protect the citizen's ability to access and distribute material over the Internet.
She said that the possibility for end users to choose what content they access is fundamental, and that a guarantee for them to do so is important. She considers that the provisions in the Telecoms Package do give regulators the powers they need to address blocking situations, however, because they are distributed through a very large and complex piece of law, their meaning is not clear - even to regulators and lawyers.
The Recommendation would pull them together in one place, to make a more coherent instrument for the regulators to use, and from the citizen's perspective, it would be a symbolic instrument. It would make it clear to national regulators what the Telecoms Package asks of them, in terms of their duty to protect the access of citizens and to guard against discriminatory practices.
It is understood that the Commission is considering this possibility.
It is very quickly going into EU folklore that Commissioner Neelie Kroes called for a boycott of operators who block. This is not quite true, but she did say emphatically that people should vote with their feet and leave mobile operators who block Skype.
She also put it on the record that she personally uses Skype to talk with her grandchildren, and this of course gives her a personal understanding of the position of the average user, and may help her to assess from the ground what the impact of her policies might be.
At the Net Neutrality summit, Mrs Kroes also gave an indication that the Commission may take direct action against miscreant operators: "Now you know I am ready to take action" she said, "If I encounter significant problems, I will not be afraid to change the law in future".
Of course, the difficulty for many users will be that all operators act as a cartel in blocking Skype, and therefore they have no such possibility to vote with their feet.
The Belgian Minister for Telecommunications, Vincent Van Quickenborne, also speaking at the Net Neutrality summit, said that "there is a role for the regulators ... networks should be neutral, but there should be no political neutrality in this debate". Of course, as someone pointed out to me at the end of the day, Belgium is a country where there are only two mobile operators, and no choice for consumers.
As many iptegrity readers will know, I have been sceptical of the powers in the Telecoms Package regarding traffic management. A Recommendation is not binding, but it would act as a lever for the Commission to act against operators who use traffic management in discriminatory ways, and certainly the clarification it would bring as to the powers granted to national regulators under the Telecoms Package would be welcome.
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 (2010) Will an EU net neutrality recommendation be helpful? , http://www.iptegrity.com 16 November 2010.