Europe calls for an open and neutral Internet

At least this seems to be the result from a consultation launched by the European Commission in June 2010 which has gathered opinion from 318 stakeholders from all levels of the value chain who provided input to the consultation. Although the consultation did not reveal a widespread call for further EU legislation, there is an expectation that additional guidance may be needed in the future.

European bodies from many different types, such as BEREC, the body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications, operators, internet service providers, Member States' authorities, consumer and civil society organisations as well as individuals, presented their opinions to the European Commission by taking part in the public consultation launched in June 2010 about net neutrality.

The responses included few calls for minimum quality-of-service requirements at this stage, but clear support for industry-wide standards on transparency to enable consumers to make informed choices. Many respondents consider that transparency by itself would not allay all net neutrality concerns, particularly where there are barriers to switching between internet service providers.

Main findings of EC Consultation on net neutrality

  • The EU's revised telecoms framework adopted in 2009 is considered to provide the basic tools for dealing with net neutrality issues. The large majority of respondents consider that the effectiveness of these EU rules should not be assessed until it has been implemented and applied at national level.
  • There is consensus that traffic management is a necessary and essential part of operating a secure and efficient network. Nevertheless, some respondents have raised concerns that this tool could be abused to favour one service over another. There are also risks to privacy arising from 'packet-inspection' software.
  • Several respondents are concerned about new internet business models causing net neutrality problems in the future, and have asked the Commission to provide clarity on the distinction between the "best-efforts" internet and "managed services".
  • BEREC, the body of EU telecoms regulators, warned of possible problems of discrimination leading to anti-competitive effects, the potential longer-term consequences for the internet economy in terms of innovation and freedom of expression, and uncertainties for consumers due to lack of transparency.
  • Industry players are generally content with current market structures, but some content providers fear that changes to pricing mechanisms such as payment for content delivery, might amount to a tax on innovation.
  • Blocking of phone services over the internet (i.e. Voice over Internet Protocol - VoIP) and bandwidth throttling of sites raise concerns for many respondents.