Electronic Design
EU Commission Tells ISPs To Keep It Open, Keep It Neutral

EU Commission Tells ISPs To Keep It Open, Keep It Neutral

The already strained relationship between Internet service providers (ISPs) and the European Commission for the Digital Agenda recently received a further disturbing jolt. By the end of May 2011, Internet companies will have to ensure that the services they provide citizens and businesses are open and neutral. But what does that mean? Well, quite a number of things.

For example, the commission has asked the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) to undertake a rigorous fact-finding exercise on issues crucial to ensuring an open and neutral Internet, including barriers to changing operators, blocking or throttling Internet traffic, transparency, and quality of service.

At the end of 2011, the commission will publish evidence from BEREC’s investigation, including any instances of blocking or throttling Internet traffic. If BEREC’s findings and other feedback indicate outstanding problems, the commission will assess the need for more stringent measures.

Ready To Block Unlawful Services

The commission has very sharp teeth when it comes to upholding European law, as some global electronics companies have experienced.

“I am determined to ensure that citizens and businesses in the EU can enjoy the benefits of an open and neutral Internet, without hidden restrictions and at the speeds promised by their service providers. I am a firm believer in the principles of competition, which are at the core of the new enhanced telecom rules on transparency, quality of service, and the ability to easily switch operators,” said Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda.

“Over the next few months, in close cooperation with member states’ regulatory authorities, I will be closely monitoring respect for new EU rules to make sure that they ensure an open Internet. At the end of 2011, I will publish the results,” Kroes added. “If I am not satisfied, I will not hesitate to come up with more stringent measures, which may take the form of guidance or even general legislative measures to achieve the competition and choice consumers deserve.”

Other rules directly relevant to net neutrality that enter into force on 25 May 2011 include:

• Transparency: Customers will be informed about any restrictions limiting access to services or applications, as well as connection speeds.

• Quality of service: Regulators will set minimum quality levels.

• Service transparency: Consumers will be entitled to make informed choices about their Internet provider on the basis of adequate information about possible restrictions on access to particular services, actual connection speeds, and possible limits on Internet speeds.

Currently, ISPs can block traffic by making it difficult to access certain services or Web sites on the Internet or by restricting access to them entirely. Throttling, which is employed to manage Internet traffic and minimise congestion, may be used to slow down certain types of traffic and so affect the quality of content, such as video streaming.

Finally, the commission is convinced that it is crucially important for consumers to be able to change operators easily. The new telecoms rules on number portability, which will ensure that consumers will be able to change their operators and keep their numbers within one working day, should help. The new rules also make sure that conditions for contract termination do not represent a disincentive to switching.

It will be interesting to see how the ISPs have performed when the BEREC report is published later this year.

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