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EU net neutrality laws a threat to UK Open Internet Code, says BSG

The Broadband Stakeholder Group’s Richard Hooper says that the EU’s Connected Continent Regulation could damage the UK’s Open Internet Code

The European Union’s Connected Continent Regulations threaten to undermine the progress the UK has independently made on securing net neutrality, according to the Broadband Stakeholder Group’s (BSG) chairman, Richard Hooper.

Speaking at Broadband World Forum in London, Hooper said that the agreement reached on 30 June 2015 – which enshrined the principles of net neutrality into European Union (EU) law, as well as ending mobile roaming charges – was too prescriptive.

In his speech, Hooper said that the UK’s Open Internet Code – the creation of which was spearheaded by the BSG – meant that Britain’s communications services providers had committed to fair competition, transparency and self-regulation in such a way that obviated the need for state or EU-level regulation “while providing a level of certainty that benefits both content and infrastructure providers”.

The Open Internet Code provides that signatories offer full internet access as the norm, meaning users have access to all legal content; that signatories do not deploy traffic management technology in such a way that targets or degrades the content or applications of specific providers; and recommits them to providing clear traffic management policies.

At face value, the EU’s regulations accomplish similar goals, but Hooper said it goes beyond what is needed in the UK.

“Unfortunately, the EU have pursued a more prescriptive approach than is necessary or desirable in the UK and potentially hinders the ability of network providers to provide innovative services.

“On some level I understand the desire of European policy-makers – not every EU member state has the level of competition that we benefit from. This means the incentives for network providers to negatively discriminate are greater and necessitate some level of regulation,” said Hooper.

Hooper argued that the problems created by a lack of competition elsewhere in the EU would not be solved by regulating all 28 member states in the same way.

“The real solution, which will be to the benefit of all players, has to be boosting competition by lowering barriers for entry and creating space for new entrants, just as we did so well in the UK 10 years ago,” he said.

However, he added, the EU’s new rules did not necessarily mark the end for self-regulation in the UK. The BSG is currently conducting a review, alongside German communications consultancy WIK, to find out how effective the Open Internet Code has been to date, and how it can continue to operate once the EU’s regulations become legally binding on 30 April 2016.

“Although we have not completed the review, we are confident having completed our initial compliance analysis, which is now being reviewed by a legal expert, that our approach remains valid under the new regulation. For one thing, in many areas we have provided more detailed information and assurance to consumers,” said Hooper.

“We are also using this opportunity to look at how the codes have operated – and the fact that no blocking or throttling takes place on the basis of commercial rivalry in the UK is evidence of that success.

“But we don’t want to rest on our laurels and will examine whether we should expand the code to cover issues such as internet service provider [ISP] interconnection or zero-rating – or whether competition law already addresses these adequately,” he said.

The BSG’s review will conclude in the next few weeks, after which the organisation will begin work on renewing and reforming the Open Internet Code. ........................

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