ETNO contribution to WCIT

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ETNO, the Brussels-based lobby representing incumbent telecoms operators, released on September 7th, 2012, a "contribution to WCIT", suggesting changes to the ITU's founding treaty, the "International Telecommunication Regulations" (ITRs). This page provides a short analysis of ETNO's proposed amendments.

For more background and analysis, see this article.

Differentiated QoS would kill Net neutrality[edit]

ETNO proposes the following amendment to the ITRs:

3.1 (...) Member States shall facilitate the development of international IP interconnections providing both best effort delivery and end to end quality of service delivery. 4.4 Operating Agencies shall cooperate in the development of international IP interconnections providing both, best effort delivery and end to end quality of service delivery. Best effort delivery should continue to form the basis of international IP traffic exchange. Nothing shall preclude commercial agreements with differentiated quality of service delivery to develop. (Our emphasis).

According to ETNO, the ITU's founding treaty should "enable incremental revenues by end‐to‐end QoS pricing and content value pricing" and allow for "new interconnection policies based on the differentiation of the QoS parameters for specific services and types of traffic (not only on the “volume”)." That, they say, should be part of the "Internet ecosystem" (i.e. not just for so-called "managed services" or "specialized services", which are private IP networks distinct from the public Internet), and should be decided between network operators and online service providers, putting regulators and end-users out of the picture once and for all.

ETNO's proposal is contrary to a comprehensive definition of Net neutrality.

To be sure, there are still debates in political circles about what exactly is Net neutrality. Everybody will say they agree with the concept, but will provide varying definitions depending on how sympathetic they are to the policy options defended by incumbent players in the telecoms sector.

In France, a parliamentary report rightly stressed last year that Net neutrality is to be understood as the "Internet users’ ability to send and receive the content of their choice, to use services or run applications of their choice, connect the equipment and use the programs of their choice (...) with a transparent, sufficient, and non-discriminatory quality of service (...)."

The report clarifies a key point: the notion of "non-discriminatory QoS" means that Internet access provider cannot establish "differentiated QoS" on the public Internet. According to the French parliamentarians:

The concept of nondiscrimination can be interpreted in various ways, including as a homogeneous treatment of flows, as a differentiation in how flows are processed according to the objective needs of the uses they support, or as no discriminatory access to various levels of quality of service. (...) The concept of nondiscrimination is used here in the sense of homogeneous delivery. (Our emphasis).

This is a rigorous definition of Net neutrality. Preventing operators from introducing differentiated QoS interconnection policies is indeed of paramount importance to protect the Internet.

If ETNO's proposals were adopted, they would end up:

Hurting freedom of communication[edit]

ETNO's amendments would prevent Member States from adopting rigorous Net neutrality regulations to ban operators from blocking, throttling, or priorising specific types of content, applications or services, since the ability to provide differentiated QoS on the Internet would be explicitly protected by the ITU. The ETNO chairman is quite explicit about the policy-laundering scheme: "Our proposal is to impede some member state to regulate further the Internet"... Regulate against the telecoms operators' attempts to break the Net, that is.

Undermining privacy[edit]

ETNO's proposals would inevitably lead to the generalization of privacy-invasive traffic monitoring technologies, such as Deep Packet Inspection. Such technologies would be necessary to identify specific types of traffic and implement ad hoc policies as provided by interconnection agreements, but would de facto establish a comprehensive surveillance infrastructures over vast portions of the Internet.

Hampering competition and innovation[edit]

Differentiated QoS would favor powerful service providers such as Google, which would be in position to pay for priorisation, whereas smaller players and new entrants would be at a competitive disadvantage. It would be the end of the level playing field provided by the Internet economy.

Decreasing incentives to invest in more bandwidth[edit]

Congestion would increase the value of differentiated QoS agreements providing priorised traffic delivery. Operators would therefore be in position to benefit from the scarcity of their network's bandwidth, and would have less incentives to invest in increasing the capacity of their networks.

"Sending party pays" would profoundly undermine the functioning of Internet[edit]

There is another ETNO proposal, which has less to do with Net neutrality but which also worrying. ETNO wants the Internet interconnection model to mimick that of telephony, by imposing the principle of "sending party pays" principle. According to the ETNO proposed amendment:

3.2 Operating Agencies [network operators] shall endeavour to provide sufficient telecommunications facilities to meet requirements of and demand for international telecommunication services. For this purpose, and to ensure an adequate return on investment in high bandwidth infrastructures, operating agencies shall negotiate commercial agreements to achieve a sustainable system of fair compensation for telecommunications services and, where appropriate, respecting the principle of sending party network pays. (Our emphasis).

This would have dire consequences :

Increasing inequalities in access[edit]

As differentiated QoS, "sending party pays" could also alter the core of the Internet economy. As CDT points out in a policy brief (PDF), "if sending networks have to pay termination fees to reach local telecom operators that serve businesses and individual users in less developed countries, large companies may decide certain countries are not big or commercially important enough to justify the cost of routing traffic into that destination."

Hindering competition and innovation[edit]

Small players --and in particular non commercial online service providers and network operators-- could severely suffers from such a system. As French NRA ARCEP points out in a recent preliminary report on Net neutrality, "incomes service and volumes are not proportionate on the side of online service providers, so that some services that generate a lot of volume and which might be innovative could be undermined if the amount charged by Internet access providers were significant".

Undermining the smooth operation of the network[edit]

The "sending party pays" principle could have harmful consequences on network's smooth operation. According to the CDT, "'sending party network pays' would create an incentive for network operators to reduce the amount of content they cache locally because requiring the content to be re-sent each time it is requested would enable them to collect more compensation from the networks “sending” the content".

Both proposals must be rejected[edit]

These amendments have a chance to pass. So far, policy-makers, in the EU and beyond, have remained silent, refusing to react to ETNO's proposed changes to the ITRs. This suggests that ETNO's proposal may actually have key political support.


It is time for Neelie Kroes and other policy-makers to step up against ETNO proposal, and protect citizens' freedom of information as well as free competition and innovation online against the predatory behaviors of dominant, rent-seeking operators.