Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Net neutrality update


Following on from developments last month (details here), the European Commission has this week launched a public consultation "seeking answers to questions on transparency, switching and certain aspects of internet traffic management, with a view to its commitment to preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet". In particular the Commission is seeking views on:
  • internet traffic management, including congestion management, managed services and privacy issues;
  • transparency, in particular regarding the actual internet performance (speed and quality) and restrictions of internet access products;
  • the possibility for consumers to switch operators; and
  • internet interconnection issues between network operators.
According to the press release, these questions have emerged as key issues in the "net neutrality" debate that has taken place in Europe over the past years, including the recent findings of the Body of European Regulators of European Communications (BEREC). The intention is to "end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe", turning BEREC's findings into practical recommendations.

The main thrust would appear to be on ways to empower consumers to exercise informed choice, rather than placing restrictions on the marketplace, thereby creating a competitive, innovative marketplace where consumers can easily understand the strengths and limitations of a particular service, switching to another provider if required. This is in keeping with the general principle that regulatory intervention in competitive markets is inappropriate unless it becomes the only way to resolve problems. In some ways the approach seems to be to encourage industry to self-regulate rather than face unwanted external regulation. The consultation closes on 15 October 2012.

Commentary from ISP Review here, on the same day the EC also launched a consultation on a future EU Network and Information Security legislative initiative (press release here). Also of note is the launch today by the Broadband Stakeholder Group of a voluntary Open Internet Code of Practicewith signatories to the Code confirming that they will:
  • Ensure that full and open internet access products, with no blocked services, will be the norm within their portfolio of products.
  • Provide greater transparency in instances where certain classes of legal content, applications and/or services are unavailable on a product. These products will not be marketed as “internet access” and signatories will be obliged to ensure that any restrictions are clearly communicated to consumers.
  • Not target and degrade the content or applications of specific providers.
...which would seem to provide a good fit with the principles underpinning the EC consultation. However, it would seem there remain some issues to be ironed out, as both the BBC and ISP Review report that while ten ISPs including BT, O2 and Talktalk have backed the agreement, Virgin Media, Everything Everywhere and Vodafone have so far opted out. The BBC list the following reasons for this:
"The businesses which declined said they all supported the idea of an open internet, but had qualms about the code itself. Virgin Media suggested the circumstances under which traffic management practices could be deployed needed to be defined more strictly...Vodafone said the code was "impractical" as it would have restricted how it marketed its packages...Everything Everywhere - which runs the T-Mobile and Orange mobile networks - said it was simply not ready to join."

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