Until last year, 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 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 at the end of last year, and consultation process, which invited responses from citizen stakeholders as well as industry. So far, so good. However, the process has been criticised as a cosmetic exercise, and the Commission's response as a weak sop to the dominant telecoms industry lobbyists.
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.
The European Parliament has made a resounding call for net neutrality to be protected, in two separate votes this week. The votes do not create any new laws, but they do send a strong message to the European Commission which is working on draft laws for copyright and traffic management.
There is a lot of mis-information about the ITU summit in Dubai these two weeks. Much of it may be coming from people, especially those in the US, who have some kind of interest in the outcome.
What the ITU does give us, however, is a global stage on which to play out the realpolitik politics of telecoms. There is much we can learn about how the power base has shifted. In this post, I explain what I think is happening.
Probably the most scary document I have ever read.
It’s a technical document written for engineers. Its aim is to translate the customer requirements, as passed to them by their commercial colleagues, in order to set a standard for the industry, so that all of the equipment from different manufacturers will work together. Customers – the ISPs and network providers - will have the choice of competitive product offers, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to change out all of their equipment.
The EU and the US go head-to-head with Arab and African states over “free” telecoms markets. But what does this proposal really mean for the Internet?
As the 2012 World Congress of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - also known as the WCIT-2012 - got underway this week, and deep political fissures are looming over the future of the Internet, with an EU-US axis directly opposed to an Arab-African alliance. The conflict was provoked by proposals tabled by the European telco organisation ETNO, but appears to have evolved.
The European Commission’s traffic management (net neutrality) consultation suggests regulation of deep packet inspection, but how does that square with its obvious industry bias?
The European Commission wants to know if it should regulate deep packet inspection (DPI) on the public Internet. In a consultation that closed today, labelled as ‘net neutrality’, the Commission asked a range of questions about how ISP use traffic management, a technology which is dependent on deep packet inspection techniques. But how skewed is the questionaire towards the industry position? Is it just a codification of the debate from the Telecoms Package? To whom will the answers be most useful?
Could there be a poison pill for the Internet in a 20-year review of the technical rules that govern international telecoms networks?
The international telecoms industry is working on a new set of rules that govern the entire world’s telecoms infrastructure. The rules will be debated and voted on at a meeting in Dubai this December (WCIT-12), as part of a long-scheduled review. A ‘poison pill’ proposal from the European telecoms industry association known as ETNO, threatens to introduce proposals that would kill off net neutrality and create an Internet ‘slow lane’ via differentiated charging of content providers.
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?
Will the next corporate scandal involve the Internet?
The Financial Times today* suggests that 2012 will be a pivotal year for the media. I think that when we look back in a few years’ time, 2010 will be a tipping point for the Internet too. In retrospect, we will know whether those who currently guard the networks had a public or a private interest at heart.
In 2011, we saw the apparent vindication of the Internet as an enabler of democracy, coupled with a massive growth in Internet traffic, ending the year with a huge spike on Xmas day as people downloaded apps on their new Smartphones. The wider context was one of corporate greed and media despotism, the ever-deepening banking crisis and the exposure of the rottenness in the British media, specifically the Murdoch organisation. Add to that allegations of political corruption, as in Hungary regarding its consitutional changes and Spain regarding Ley Sinde.
Why would one bring these apparently unrelated concepts together in a discussion of Internet policy?
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.
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.