The European Commission’s lead for the Digital Agenda has proposed EC legislation to ensure a neutral internet.
EC vice-president Neelie Kroes released a statement confirming she would prepare recommendations to generate more choice. Kroes said she wanted to end uncertainty over net neutrality in Europe, following a report on the state of the internet from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).
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The study showed at least 20% of broadband users and up to half of mobile internet customers had contracts allowing their providers to restrict certain services, such as VoIP or file-sharing.
Approximately 20% of fixed operators put restrictions on what users could access at peak times, affecting up to 95% of customers in a single country.
However, 85% of ISPs and 76% of mobile providers offer unrestricted package options, meaning there is some choice, but it is limited in certain countries.
“These findings show the need for more regulatory certainty and that there are enough problems to warrant strong and targeted action to safeguard consumers,” said Kroes.
The EC vice-president detailed plans to ensure EU citizens had access to a robust internet with all the applications they would wish.
Kroes’ first target was accurate speeds. She wants to bring in EC rules to ensure consumers know the truth about the connections they are getting. Broadband failures to reach advertised speeds have proved a recurring debate in the UK market.
“Clear, quantified data ceilings are much better than vague 'fair use' policies that leave too much discretion to ISPs,” Kroes said.
“Consumers need clear information on actual, real-life broadband speeds. Not just the speed at 3am, but the speed at peak times. The upload as well as the download speed. The minimum speed, if applicable.”
Regarding net neutrality, Kroes wanted to ensure consumers knew what they were getting and had the option to access the web without restrictions.
“Consumers need to know if they are getting Champagne or lesser sparkling wine,” she said.
“If it is not full internet, it shouldn't be marketed as such; perhaps it shouldn't be marketed as 'internet' at all, at least not without any upfront qualification.”
“Regulators should have that kind of control over how ISPs market the service.”
As a result, Kroes said she won't force all providers to offer neutrality-based internet services, but wants to encourage citizens to make informed choices.
“If consumers want to obtain discounts because they only plan to use limited online services, why stand in their way? And we don't want to create obstacles to entrepreneurs who want to provide tailored connected services or service bundles.”
“But I want to be sure these consumers are aware of what they are getting and what they are missing.”
Kroes’ final point concerned packet inspection. If ISPs are to limit access, they must monitor their online traffic. Kroes said she was concerned about the privacy issues of packet inspections.
“We need clear guidance on responsible behaviour by ISPs and how consumers can exercise effective and informed control if they opt for such products,” Kroes concluded.
“I am in favour of an open internet and maximum choice; that must be protected. But you don’t need me or the EU telling you what sort of internet services you must pay for.”