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Net Neutrality

Anyone involved in the industry today will know of the powerful technical capabilities now in the hands of those telecoms companies. Deep packet inspection and traffic management systems make blocking, prioritisation, discrimination of different types of traffic not only possible, but happening. The neutrality on which the Internet is based - and which is indeed essential for the proper functioning of a communications network - is under threat, and our policy-makers are spineless in the face of large commercial interests.

When one writes about this subject of net neutrality, it is impossible to ignore these factors. Indeed, I believe that policy writing which fails to tackle them, would lack credibiility. This section will therefore discuss the threats to the Internet posed by these counter-neutral technologies, and their policy implications. And it will take a critical look at the politicking of the people in power in the EU.

Until 2009, the European Union did not have a policy on net neutrality. The reason why net neutrality  is now on the EU policy agenda, is a direct result of events that occurred during  the 2009 Telecoms Package process. Pressure  from citizens groups forced the issue in the European Parliament. The rapporteur, Catherine Trautmann played a tight hand  with the other EU institutions, which resulted in an instruction to the Commission. 

The outcome was a public seminar on net neutrality and  consultation process, which invited responses from citizen stakeholders as well as industry. So far, so good. However, the process was   criticised as a cosmetic exercise, and the Commission's response as a weak sop to the dominant telecoms  industry lobbyists.

Since then the policy has moved on, and in 2014  the European Parliament adopted a series of provisions that sought to enshrine net neutrality into EU law. AS a consequence of those provisions,  a new political battle within the EU has begun. It won't end without bitter recriminations and some digital blood letting. This political battle that looks set to be the determining one fo rthis issue, and there are  many economic factors at stake.

If you are interested in net neutrality and how it has been addressed by EU and US policy, you may like my book The Closing of the Net  .

If you are interested in copyright policy, you may like my previous books A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms and The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the ‘Telecoms Package’

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.

Read more: EU Council orders a watch on net neutrality

Are the mobile companies getting away with poor service, operating as as cartels and supporting cruel labour practices in the name of cheaper phones?

Blackberry’s recent  data server outage left millions of people without their emails or access to the Internet for several days. Blackberry said ‘sorry’ but is that enough? Meanwhile, as  Nokia launched its new Windows smartphone, its PR succeeded in focussing the journalists on the excitement of new apps.  The mobile companies are  conspicuously silent on  the allegation that phone manufacturers are supporting the most horrifying labour conditions to mine essential minerals for the smartphone  chips, and potentially financing the civil war in the Congo.   

Read more: Blood money, silent Blackberries - time to regulate mobiles?

 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,

Read more: Will EU net neutrality vote buck up Steely Neelie?

The European Parliament has a new rapporteur for Net Neutrality and he has hit the ground running. He is the German MEP Herbert Reul, and the the first thing he  wants to do, is to ask the  Council  of Ministers how it will ensure an Open Internet and net neutrality across the EU. And he has drafted a  resolution on Net Neutrality which the Parliament may eventually vote on. Both items are currently on the agenda for the Industry committee (ITRE).  However, there is concern that the matter will simply end up as a sop to industry,  and act as a further ballast to its non-neutral behaviour in blocking Internet services.

Read more: Net Neutrality blows in to EU autumn agenda

The Netherlands shows how the EU  Telecoms Package may be implemented with positive net neutrality principles enshrined.

The Netherlands  has taken the lead in Europe on the issue of net neutrality.  The Dutch Parliament voted this week on a law which being hailed positively  as a  net neutrality law - the first net neutrality law in Europe. This law  is the Dutch  implementation of the EU Telecoms Package. Key   provisions will prevent ISPs

Read more: Dutch net neutrality law lights the way for Europe

The European Commission Communication on  The open internet and net neutrality in Europe   is mostly disappointing, failing to stand up to the telecoms operators. But there may be just a hint that  the Commission could  bring out  the whips if they don't behave. 


The European Commission  has revealed  its official view on the open internet and net neutrality. It comes in a  follow-up report  to last year's official consultation, released this week.


At first sight, it seems very industry-cuddly, reiterating views expressed by the telecoms industry lobbyists and by some regulators who support them, such as the UK's own Ofcom. But, when one reads it in full, it does seem that the Commission could be holding the whip behind its back - if only it can get the courage to use it.


The report  has been criticised for being weak and ineffective, and it does bear all the hall-marks of a classic cop-out. It is  peppered

Read more: EU Commission on Net Neutrality: will it ever crack the whip?

The UK government is trying to sneak in the transposition of the Telecoms Package, acccording to a Parliamentary answer given by the Minister Ed Vaizey. His answer  said  that it will be transposed by Statutory Instrument (SI) in April.  


The use of an SI  is likely to mean that Parliament does not get to vote on it, but simply is asked to approve. Without any public debate, and with the large telcos such as Vodafone, sweet-talking the Ministries, this means that UK Internet users stand to lose out.


Why is this important? The Telecoms Package contains a provision which gives regulators  - ie Ofcom - a duty to promote the ability of Internet users to access content, services and applications. This provision, weaker than what

Read more: Will UK close up the Net in Telecoms Package transposition?

In 2009, Vodafone lobbied the EU for the right to restrict the Internet. Now it uses deep packet inspection (dpi) to implement  content censorship.


---Updated on 17 January 2011 - please see below.---


 On Christmas Eve my Blackberry was reset by an automated security update which wiped  the functionality and left me with a white screen saying ‘app.error'. This chance situation led me to uncover a censorship system which Vodafone has put in place without informing me.


As  a  Vodafone customer of  some 15 years, I had a  polite conversation with the call centre operator who took my call. But  as a policy analyst, her responses to my questions about traffic management policies gave me cause for concern.


A little investigation afterwards revealed that Vodafone has put in place a ‘content control'  system which is a form censorship, because it  puts restrictions on the content where the decision to restrict has been taken by a third-party and not by me. The fact that it is a corporate administrator, and not the State, is irrelevant. The system has been developed  outside of European jurisdiction,  by a company which has no accountability to European policy-makers and which appears to be implemented via 

Read more: How Vodafone censors your Internet

A young man of 22 cites attempts by European Union  to restrict the Internet among his reasons for taking a political stand and to attack the websites of giant corporations. What is the real message here to  policy-makers?


 Operation Payback  is  a  targetted action by a group of several thousand  people   against the  websites  of corporations which have in one way or another, removed facilities from Wikileaks, the website which has released thousands of US diplomatic cables and other material that the American government would like to keep secret.


When one of the group - which goes by the name 'Anonymous' - was interviewed by the BBC this week, he cited European Union policy as one of the reasons for this action.

 The young man interviewed called himself by the pseudonym "Coldblood". He was aged 22, a software engineer,  and a-political. But he was passionate about keeping the Internet open and free.  He was interviewed on

Read more: Did EU Internet restrictions prompt Operation Payback?

An open letter from Skype, eBay, and Yahoo is  the latest round to be fired in an ever-hotter net neutrality debate in the UK. The addressee is the Minister responsible, Ed Vaizey,  who has been  under attack since mid-November,  for supporting the notion of a two-tier Internet.

But will such tactics turn him round, when his every action is dictated by the regulator  -  anti-net neutrality lobbyist, Ofcom?


Ed Vaizey,  UK Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries  has been sent an open letter by Skype, Yahoo, eBay and a number of citizens and consumer groups,  calling on the government to protect the open Internet. The letter is cc'd to his two bosses, Jeremy Hunt, Minister for Culture, and Vince Cable, Minister for Business.


The letter highlights how end-users access to content, services and applications is already restricted today in the UK. It calls on the government to "to remove any such arbitrary restrictions to the open Internet".   The letter goes on to say "We also recommend the Government's policies on the open Internet and traffic management take account of

Read more: UK Minister Ed Vaizey under heated net neutrality attack

Report from  Broadband Traffic Management congress, London, 16-18 November 2010

An afternoon spent among the telcos and their suppliers does not bring much cheer to those who want to protect the open Internet.    If deep packet inspection (DPI) is a cornerstone of the network, how should policy-makers be thinking?

* PLUS *   I experience  a DPI sales demo: "Content filtering ? Certainly. Which filters do you want?"


Broadband Traffic Management is a new exhibition which provides a  forum for discussion of the issues surrounding the new technologies which operate and run broadband networks. A visit to it was eye-opening.

It was revelatory to see how much enthousiasm is going in to developing new ideas to alter the structure of   what we know today as, ‘the Internet'. The changes  will be justified by

Read more: Traffic management - how deep packet engines will shape the Internet slow lane

Follow-up report to the EU Summit on ‘The Open Internet and Net Neutrality in Europe', Brussels, 11 November 2010 



Lobbyists from the UK regulator Ofcom have been active in the European Parliament, against net neutrality. How can this be consistent with their role as regulator, and their duty to promote the ability of citizens to access and distribute content, applications and services?

According to sources in the European  Parliament, lobbyists from Ofcom have been calling in person on MEPs recently to discuss the issue of net neutrality. In particular, it is understood that  Ofcom  opposes a principle of

Read more: UK regulator Ofcom lobbies Brussels against net neutrality

 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 to

Read more: Will an EU net neutrality recommendation be helpful?



States v the 'Net? 

Read The Closing of the Net, by me, Monica Horten.

"original and valuable"  Times higher Education

" essential read for anyone interested in understanding the forces at play behind the web."

Find out more about the book here  The Closing of the Net


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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

Don't miss Iptegrity!  RSS/ Bookmark is the website of Dr Monica Horten. She is a policy analyst specialising in Internet governance & European policy, including platform accountability. She is a published author & Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on  Internet Freedom. She has worked on CoE, EU and UNDP funded projects in eastern Europe and the Caucasus. In a voluntary capacity, she has led UK citizen delegations to the European Parliament. She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012.

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