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Net Neutrality

Anyone involved in the industry today will know of the powerful technical capabilities now in the hands of those telecoms companies. Deep packet inspection and traffic management systems make blocking, prioritisation, discrimination of different types of traffic not only possible, but happening. The neutrality on which the Internet is based - and which is indeed essential for the proper functioning of a communications network - is under threat, and our policy-makers are spineless in the face of large commercial interests.

When one writes about this subject of net neutrality, it is impossible to ignore these factors. Indeed, I believe that policy writing which fails to tackle them, would lack credibiility. This section will therefore discuss the threats to the Internet posed by these counter-neutral technologies, and their policy implications. And it will take a critical look at the politicking of the people in power in the EU.

Until 2009, the European Union did not have a policy on net neutrality. The reason why net neutrality is now on the EU policy agenda, is a direct result of events that occurred during the 2009 Telecoms Package process. Pressure from citizens groups forced the issue in the European Parliament. The rapporteur, Catherine Trautmann played a tight hand with the other EU institutions, which resulted in an instruction to the Commission.

The outcome was a public seminar on net neutrality and consultation process, which invited responses from citizen stakeholders as well as industry. So far, so good. However, the process was criticised as a cosmetic exercise, and the Commission's response as a weak sop to the dominant telecoms industry lobbyists.

Since then the policy has moved on, and in 2014 the European Parliament adopted a series of provisions that sought to enshrine net neutrality into EU law. AS a consequence of those provisions, a new political battle within the EU has begun. It won't end without bitter recriminations and some digital blood letting. This political battle that looks set to be the determining one fo rthis issue, and there are many economic factors at stake.

If you are interested in net neutrality and how it has been addressed by EU and US policy, you may like my book The Closing of the Net .

If you are interested in copyright policy, you may like my previous books A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms and The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the 'Telecoms Package'

***Newflash - despite Vivane Reding's stinging rebuke, the Commission has tonight approved the new telecoms rules . And most recent leak indicates the proposal remains negative for users. ***

Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, did not mince her words when she launched a stinging attack on her old DG over proposals for the economically-powerful telecoms industry. Mrs Reding - who knows what she is talking about as she led the 2009 Telecoms Package - said that the right to freedom of expression is put at risk by the draft Telecoms Regulation. Mrs Reding's comments come as a sharp rebuke to her long- term colleague and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes.

Read more: Reding tackles Kroes: new EU telecoms law puts free speech at risk

If you care about the Internet, you should care about this. The leaked draft of the new Telecoms Regulation is the Telecoms Package 'MkII'. But unlike its predecessor, it contains legal twists that create some mega- horrors. Whoever wins this argument in the Commission will determine who runs the networks and how for the next decade.

EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, has taken a lashing from rival DG Competition over her proposed shake-up of the telecoms market . The attack on Mrs Kroes draft policy suggess an internal fight over the aims and scope of the Regulation, which was leaked last month by European Digital Rights. But an investigation of Commission documents suggests that she has not yet firmed up her plans and is exposed to rival demands from other Commissioners . The possibility of splits in the Commission over the Regulation came to light in

Read more: EU rifts over how far to push new telecoms rules - DG Comp attacks Kroes

It's a reprise of the Telecoms Package from 2009. It drips and gushes controversial measures that will drive stakes through the entire telecoms infrastructure - not just net neutrality. And it seems the Commission is suffering a severe dose of memory loss.

According to a leaked draft of new legislation, the European Comission is planning to make sweeping changes to the Telecoms Framework that will, inter alia, impact on the Internet. This is the draft Regulation 'laying down measures to complete the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent". It was leaked at the beginning of the month by the European Digital Rights group (EDRi) and, despite the innocuous sounding title, it pushes open a Pandora's box of controversies. It's a real horror.

Read more: EU midsummer horror: leaked draft of new Telecoms Regulation

She's more like Miss Jean Brodie than the Iron Lady. Yet the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, 'Steelie' Neelie Kroes, lived up to her nickname last week when she ripped up a prepared speech on the telecoms single market. Instead, she gave the strongest sign yet that the European Commission could choose to guarantee net neutrality. What is going on? Iptegrity has had sight of her binned speech.

Read more: Why did Steelie Neelie tear up the telecoms agenda?

Her spinmeisters are doing their best to create an upbeat image for Commissioner Kroes. But even if she is endowed with all of Hogwarts' magic, net neutrality will be tough trick to pull off.

Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, dropped a surprise when she spoke to the European Parliament this week. Mrs Kroes, who is nickneamed Steelie Neelie, might as well have dropped a bomb. She indicated that the European Commission will propose a guarantee for net neutrality in legislation forthcoming later this year.

Read more: Steelie Neelie brandishes the net neutrality wand

The European Parliament has made a resounding call for net neutrality to be protected, in two separate votes this week. The votes do not create any new laws, but they do send a strong message to the European Commission which is working on draft laws for copyright and traffic management.

Read more: European Parliament calls for positive laws on net neutrality

There is a lot of mis-information about the ITU summit in Dubai these two weeks. Much of it may be coming from people, especially those in the US, who have some kind of interest in the outcome.

What the ITU does give us, however, is a global stage on which to play out the realpolitik politics of telecoms. There is much we can learn about how the power base has shifted. In this post, I explain what I think is happening.

Read more: WCIT-12: ITU and the realpolitik of telecoms

Probably the most scary document I have ever read.

It's a technical document written for engineers. Its aim is to translate the customer requirements, as passed to them by their commercial colleagues, in order to set a standard for the industry, so that all of the equipment from different manufacturers will work together. Customers - the ISPs and network providers - will have the choice of competitive product offers, safe in the knowledge that they don't have to change out all of their equipment.

Read more: The ITU's DPI standard - that's something to be afraid of!

The EU and the US go head-to-head with Arab and African states over "free" telecoms markets. But what does this proposal really mean for the Internet?

As the 2012 World Congress of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - also known as the WCIT-2012 - got underway this week, and deep political fissures are looming over the future of the Internet, with an EU-US axis directly opposed to an Arab-African alliance. The conflict was provoked by proposals tabled by the European telco organisation ETNO, but appears to have evolved.

Read more: WCIT-2012: ITU scrap heats up over toxic Internet proposals

The European Commission's traffic management (net neutrality) consultation suggests regulation of deep packet inspection, but how does that square with its obvious industry bias?

The European Commission wants to know if it should regulate deep packet inspection (DPI) on the public Internet. In a consultation that closed today, labelled as 'net neutrality', the Commission asked a range of questions about how ISP use traffic management, a technology which is dependent on deep packet inspection techniques. But how skewed is the questionaire towards the industry position? Is it just a codification of the debate from the Telecoms Package? To whom will the answers be most useful?

Read more: EU asks: should we regulate deep packet inspection?

Could there be a poison pill for the Internet in a 20-year review of the technical rules that govern international telecoms networks?

The international telecoms industry is working on a new set of rules that govern the entire world's telecoms infrastructure. The rules will be debated and voted on at a meeting in Dubai this December (WCIT-12), as part of a long-scheduled review. A 'poison pill' proposal from the European telecoms industry association known as ETNO, threatens to introduce proposals that would kill off net neutrality and create an Internet 'slow lane' via differentiated charging of content providers.

Read more: ITU 2012 - Europe's telcos slip poison pill in new Internet rules

By their own admission, Europe's telecom operators - mobile and fixed - are guilty of blocking traffic. That is the obvious conclusion to draw from a report by the new European regulatory body known as BEREC. The worst are the mobile operators, who block or throttle peer-to-peer and voice over IP, as well as other applications. The fixed operators block peer-to-peer, but are more generous with voice over IP. A worrying development is that both fixed and mobile are beginning to give preferential treatment to certain applications. What will the European Commission do about it?

Read more: How Europe's telcos restrict you

Will the next corporate scandal involve the Internet?

The Financial Times today* suggests that 2012 will be a pivotal year for the media. I think that when we look back in a few years' time, 2010 will be a tipping point for the Internet too. In retrospect, we will know whether those who currently guard the networks had a public or a private interest at heart.

In 2011, we saw the apparent vindication of the Internet as an enabler of democracy, coupled with a massive growth in Internet traffic, ending the year with a huge spike on Xmas day as people downloaded apps on their new Smartphones. The wider context was one of corporate greed and media despotism, the ever-deepening banking crisis and the exposure of the rottenness in the British media, specifically the Murdoch organisation. Add to that allegations of political corruption, as in Hungary regarding its consitutional changes and Spain regarding Ley Sinde.

Why would one bring these apparently unrelated concepts together in a discussion of Internet policy?

Read more: 2012 - who guards the network guardians?


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.