A call to protect media pluralism is positive, but the ongoing bleating about switching only supports weak regulators.
The European Parliament is in the process of establishing a position on net neutrality. It was voted on yesterday in the Industry committee, and calls on the European Commission to buck up its ideas, but falls short of calling for strong action against non-neutral network operators. Yesterday’s vote concerned a Resolution on Net Neutrality,
which is the Parliament’s response to the Commission’s report delivered last spring. The Resolution asks the Commission to monitor traffic management practices and to guard against discriminatory behaviour by the telcos and ISPs. The Parliament includes something called 'device neutrality' which sounds like it is targetting tethered appliances and smartphones which give preferential or sole access to an individual operator's content and applications. In that regard, it asks the Commission to consider whether any additional measures are needed to protect freedom of expression.
The Net Neutrality Resolution asks the Commission to consider the effect on media pluaralism, which goes hand in hand with freedom of expression. This is the first time that I have seen media pluralism in this context, and I think it is a good move. Discrimination and prioritisation of content services by network operators is a threat to media pluralism.
Pluralism is is not just about the number of services, but about the range of political viewpoints expressed, ensuring the people can get access to a diverse range of political and cultural voices.
The Net Neutrality Resolution calls on regulators to scrutinise services, which would be a good thing if the regulators would do it. A new project to monitor operators has a growing list of blockages throughout Europe.
However, the Resolution maintains support for the Commission’s outdated and fallacious view that users who experience discrimination should switch services. This is a view which suits lazy regulators such as Ofcom, who just want to cuddle up to the operators (and have surplus staff to lobby in Brussels). But it’s a view that misses a crucial factor - most people want a reliable service, which enables access to any server, anywhere, without the operator’s interference, and they expect the regulator to scrutinise services on their behalf. They do not want to have to spend time and hassle on switching – even if there is a choice of operators, which is not the case throughout Europe.
The French citizens' group La Quadrature du Net called the Resolution ‘rather weak’ but said that it will put pressure on ‘steely Neelie’ - Commissioner Neelie Kroes – to break away from her wait-and- see approach and come up with legislation to protect citizens.
The Commission is duty bound to listen to the Parliament, although it does not have to follow what is asked.
A strong policy on net neutrality is necessary because telecoms law – the Telecoms Package – opens the way for operators to discriminate or prioritise with the minimum hurdle that they must somewhere tell users.
The rapporteur for the European Parliament's Net Neutrality Resolution is Herbert Reul (see Net Neutrality blows in to EU autumn agenda ) . Here are the key clauses in it :
3a. Calls on the Commission, together with BEREC in cooperation with Member States to closely monitor the development of traffic management practices and interconnection agreements, in particular related to blocking and throttling of or excessive price for VoIP and file sharing, as well as to anticompetitive behaviour and excessive degradation of quality as required by the Telecom regulatory framework and calls on the Commission consequently to guard that Internet Service Providers do not block, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use a service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any content, application, or service of their choice irrespective of source or target;
3b Asks the Commission to provide the European Parliament with information on current traffic management practices, the interconnection market and network congestion as well as any relation to lack of investments; calls on the Commission to further analyse the issue of "device neutrality";
11. Asks the Commission to ensure the consistent application and enforcement of the existing EU regulatory framework for communications and to assess within six months after the publication of the findings of BEREC's investigation whether further regulatory measures are needed in order to ensure freedom of expression freedom of access to information, freedom of choice for consumers and media-pluralism as well as to achieve effective competition, innovation, facilitate wide-ranging benefits for citizens, business and public administration uses of the Internet and underlines that any European regulatory proposal in the area of net neutrality should be subject to an impact assessment;
7. Recognises that reasonable traffic management is required to ensure that the end user's connectivity is not disrupted by network congestion; in this context operators may, subject to NRAs scrutiny, use procedures to measure and shape Internet traffic in order to maintain networks' functional capacity and stability and to meet quality of service requirements; urges the competent national authorities to use their full powers under the Universal Services Directive to impose minimum QoS standards and believes that ensuring quality in time-critical service traffic shall not be an argument for abandoning the best-effort principle;
Calls for transparency in traffic management including better information for end-users and stresses the need to enable consumers to make informed choices and to be effectively able to switch to a new provider that can best suit their needs and preferences including the speed and volume of downloads and services and recalls to this regard the importance of providing consumers with clear, effective, meaningful and comparable information on all concerned commercial practices with equivalent effect in particular on mobile internet;
7a. Urges the competent national authorities to ensure that traffic management interventions do not involve anti-competitive or harmful discrimination; believes specialised [or managed] services should not be detrimental to the safeguard of a robust"best effort" internet access, thus fostering innovation and freedom of expression, ensuring competition and avoiding a new digital divide.
Please attribute this article: Monica Horten (2011) EU net neutrality resolution puts pressure on Steely Neelie http://www.iptegrity.com 21 October 2011.