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By their own admission, Europe's telecom operators - mobile and fixed - are guilty of blocking traffic. That is the obvious conclusion to draw from a report by the new European regulatory body known as BEREC. The worst are the mobile operators, who block or throttle peer-to-peer and voice over IP, as well as other applications. The fixed operators block peer-to-peer, but are more generous with voice over IP. A worrying development is that both fixed and mobile are beginning to give preferential treatment to certain applications. What will the European Commission do about it?

The BEREC report, entitled A view of traffic management and other practices resulting in restrictions to the open Internet in Europe, was released last Wednesday. The full report takes the form of 4 impenetrable documents, and in typical management consultant style, it trots out what it thinks the European Commission wants to hear, and does not really address the policy issue. I scent the influence of our own dear industry-cuddly Ofcom in its production. However, the Berec report does contain some charts which are revealing.

The chart that I think is most telling is the one I reproduce below. The chart shows the number of users affected by operators applying either blocking or throttling to certain applications.

The most important statistic is the one embodied by the orange colouring and by the yellow colouring. Orange is the number of users affected by a technically-enforced restriction, where the operator applies it universally to all users. Yellow is the number of users affected, whether the operator applies a technical restriction to some of its users.

From this, it can be deduced that 50 million mobile users, and 30 million fixed users in Europe are subject to throttling or blocking if they try to use P2P applications. The blocking or throttling is applied an enforcement of a contractual provision that the operator has decided to place on the user.

An additional 37.6 million mobile users are the category where such blocking will be applied to some of them - it is not quite clear what this means.

The chart also tells us that 75 million mobile users in Europe are subject to automatic blocking of voice over IP services if they try to use them. Presumably, that means Skype, or this service is not singled out in the report.

Green bars on the chart represents no restriction - and the interesting statistic for 'green' is that fixed networks do not block voice over IP - at least, they say they do not.

Why this chart is important is that the data came from the operators themselves. This is not some "activist" group complaining - it is what the operators themselves say they do. We therefore assume it is correct.

The next question of course, is what BEREC do about it.

BEREC is the body set up under the Telecoms Package to oversee all national regulators in Europe. Unfortunately, due to political differences during the negotiation of the Telecoms Package, it does not have the powers of a regulator itself.

There are powers in the Telecoms Package that national regulators could use, but they are all subject to political and industry capture (notably our own Ofcom).

Therefore, the BEREC report trots out the same old lines about quality of service, competition and value chains (which I personally think is an invalid approach in this context).

The European Commissioner for Information Society, Neelie Kroes, put out a press release in response to the BEREC data. Mrs Kroes said that she would draft "recommendations". This was reported as being legislation. However, I remain sceptical. A 'recommendation' is weak form of EU legislation. The plural, recommendations, implies that it is just that - a set of recommendations with no legal force. This may be poor writing on the part of Mrs Kroes' PR man, or it may be correct.

If we are not watchful, the European Commission will sit comfortably and do precisely nothing.

La Quadrature du Net (who have kept on top of this consultation and contributed to it) points out some possible implications of the Commission's complacency:

"The Net is being fragmented and innovators constrained, while big American online companies such as Google and Facebook make deals with access providers. In this context, the transparency approach pushed by the EU Commission comes down to whitewashing these ongoing practices"

If you'd like to know more about the Telecoms Package and the politicking, see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma . For an account of the net neutrality issues in the Telecoms Package, see Chris Marsden's book entitled 'Net Neutrality'.

This is an original article from Iptegrity.com. You may re-publish it under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, How Europe's telcos restrict you, www.iptegrity.com, 3 June 2012 . 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.

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