In a surprising gesture of pre-Christmas bonhomie, the Council of Ministers has issued directions to European Telecoms regulators, and to the European Commission to put in the preliminaries of a net neutrality policy.
On Wednesday, the Telecoms Council tasked the Commission with monitoring levels of traffic management and to establish a dialogue with the Member States on net neutrality. Member State governments were asked to ‘encourage the application of the principle of net neutrality”.
Following directly on from the Telecoms Package, the Commission and individual governments are reminded that users must be able to access to Internet content and services. They are also reminded that quality of service must be maintained.
The Telecoms Council underlines "The need to preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet and consider net neutrality as a policy objective, which is consistent and interrelated with a number of policy objectives already identified in article 8 of Directive 2002/21/EC (Framework Directive) and with the corresponding provisions included in the amended EU Regulatory Framework for Electronic Communications Networks and Services, namely in aspects such as the promotion of the ability of end users to access and distribute information or run applications and services of their choice, the increased transparency in the characteristics and conditions of the service providers and the powers conferred to National Regulatory Authorities to impose minimum requirements on quality of service;"
It invites the Commission to " Encourage its dialogue with Member States and stakeholders on net neutrality while supporting Member States in ensuring the rapid development of broadband; and Monitor, jointly with BEREC, the issue of traffic management to allow for a smooth flow of proportional, necessary and transparent traffic management practices that do not affect net neutrality;"
What’s new here is that the Council is asking for broadband quality of service to be maintained across inter-connecting networks. It is implied in the Telecoms Package but this is the first time that I have seen it openly expressed as a policy statement. It’s important because maintaining service quality across different networks is vital for free commerce and for democratic speech. Conversely, service quality is threatened by traffic management practices and other techniques such as network filtering.
The Council statement underlines that traffic management may be harmful and asks the Commission to keep an eye on it.
The Council gave its directions on net neutrality in a statement issued after the Telecoms Council meeting. Although the request has no formal legislative function, it could potentially lead to legislation. This would happen if the problem of traffic management becomes unmanageable.
Importantly however, it confirms that net neutrality is a policy issue for Europe and is well-and-truly on the table for discussion. It should throw those – such as our very own industry-cuddly Ofcom – who disingenuously insist that net neutrality is not an issue – firmly back in their place.
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