Calls for Net neutrality law

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How long are we going to wait for EU Net Neutrality law?

October 18th, 2011 - During recent negotiations over a Net neutrality resolution in the EU Parliament, the conservative EPP group argues against any reference to regulation protecting Net neutrality.

At issue is the compromise amendment 9 to the draft Net neutrality resolution discussed in "Industry" committee. The EPP opposes the call for an "assessment of further regulation". All the other main political groups support this amendment (S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA).

The position of the EPP group is inexplicable. The Commission, the European Data Protection Supervisor, many national lawmakers and the EPP group itself have all called for either an assessment of legislative action or immediate legislative action to protect Net neutrality.

EU Commission report pledges to consider "stringent measures" for Net neutrality

The EPP position contradicts Neelie Kroes' proposed policy steps, in her Net neutrality report published earlier this year.

At the time, the Commission also that: "On the basis of the evidence and the implementation of the telecom framework provisions, the Commission will decide, as a matter of priority, on the issue of additional guidance on net neutrality":

Comment: Since then, the guidance over telecoms package are being implemented: for instance BEREC is working with Member States or the transparency requirements of the teleoms package. But more importantly, the evidence the Commission is talking about is based on a very unscientific study conducted by BEREC in the summer of 2010.

The Commission also said that: "If significant and persistent problems are substantiated, and the system as a whole - comprising multiple operators - is not ensuring that consumers are easily able to access and distribute content, services and applications of their choice via a single internet subscription, the Commission will assess the need for more stringent measures". (...) Such additional measures may take the form of guidance or general legislative measures to enhance competition and consumer choice, such as by further facilitating consumer switching, or if this should prove to be insufficient, by for example imposing specific obligations regarding unjustified traffic differentiation on the internet applicable to all ISPs irrespective of market power. This could include the prohibition of the blocking of lawful services."

Comment: It's precisely what it is about in the Net neutrality resolution discussed by the "Industry" committee of the EU Parliament. The proposed amendments would call for an assessment of the need for more stringent/legislative measures, after's BEREC anticipated report of traffic management practices (expected for February). This is particularly the focus of compromise amendment 9: deciding upon a detailed study whether Net neutrality is respected and, if necessary to achieve the objectives laid out in the resolution, work of additional measures to deal with the issue. Note that andcodtal evidence of significant problems are being reported in Member States, for both mobile and fixed network access.

In sum, the proposed version does not go against the wait-and-see, but only takes note of the fact that we are moving closer the next phase of the process: working on the results of the BEREC study and its policy implications.

A draft policy paper by EPP conservative group says discriminatory practices cannot be tolerated

The following is an excerpt on Net neutrality from a EPP working group draft paper entitled "A fair internet for all":

"(c) Net Neutrality

The EPP understands net neutrality as the guiding principle which preserves the neutral transmission of data, regardless of its content, origin and application which created it. As such, the EPP enshrines net neutrality as a policy objective that needs to be implemented at EU level. It is of crucial importance to provide a level playing field for all actors in the web. As such, it is a fundamental characteristic of the free and open Internet.

The full realisation of net neutrality is yet challenged everyday due to an increasing amount of data transmitted online. This requires a permanent rise in capacities and thus investment by telecom providers. Especially new services, such as IPTV (Internet protocol television), video on demand, streaming services as well as the growing use of smart phones, create more data traffic. If the amount of data exceeds router capacity, delays, latencies or losses follow.

However, the European Commission's report on net neutrality of April 2011 proves that practices of unequal treatment persist.1 The results of a 2010 survey conducted by BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) in several EU Member States show that limits were set on the speed of peer-to-peer file-sharing or video streaming by certain providers in France, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom. In addition, certain mobile operators in Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania blocked or charged extra for the provision of voice over internet protocol services in mobile networks.

Such discriminatory practises cannot be tolerated. (...)"

EU Privacy Watchdog says absence of regulation undermine confidentiality of communications

According to a recent opinion of European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Net neutrality violations harm privacy:

"Inspection techniques based on traffic data and inspection of IP payloads, i.e. the content of communications, may reveal users’ Internet activity: websites visited and activities on those sites, use of P2P applications, files downloaded, emails sent and received, from whom, on what subject and in which terms, etc. ISPs may want to use this information to prioritise some communications, such as video on demand, over others. They may want to use it to identify viruses, or to build profiles in order to serve behavioural advertising. These actions interfere with the right to the confidentiality of communications". (§78)

"Depending on these findings, additional legislative measures may be necessary. In such a case, the Commission should put forward policy measures aiming at strengthening the legal framework and ensuring legal certainty. New measures should clarify the practical consequences of the net neutrality principle, as this has already been done in some Member States, and ensure that users can exercise a real choice, notably by forcing ISPs to offer non-monitored connections.(§89)

Dutch Parliament adopted a Net neutrality legislation

The law transposing the telecoms package would include a Net neutrality provision: Article 7.4a Telecommunications Act (unofficial translation):

1. Providers of public electronic communication networks which deliver internet access services and providers of internet access services do not hinder or slow down applications and services on the internet, unless and to the extent that the measure in question with which applications or services are being hindered or slowed down is necessary:

 a. to minimize the effects of congestion, whereby equal types of traffic should be treated equally;
 b. to preserve the integrity and security of the network and service of the provider in question or the terminal of the enduser;
 c. to restrict the transmission to an enduser of unsolicited communication as refered to in Article 11.7, first paragraph, provided that the enduser has given its prior consent;
 d. to give effect to a legislative provision or court order.

French Parliament Task-Force stresses the need for Net neutrality legislation

In spring 2011, the information mission led by Laure de la Raudière and Corinne Erhel's published an in-depth report on Net neutrality. It read:

"to protect the Internet by explicitly including it in the perimeter of electronic communications regulation. The current risk is the rise of non-neutral practices that would reduce Internet users’ ability to choose how to use their network. To counter this risk, we recommend giving the principal of Net Neutrality legal scope by generally defining its promotion as an objective for regulatory authorities (the purpose of the first proposal strategy) and, more specifically, providing guarantees on the points that give the greatest cause for concern (the purpose of the proposal strategies that follow). Proposal n°1 defines Net Neutrality under the Law, and proposal n°2 defines its promotion as an objective for regulatory authorities."

(...)