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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'

Report on "EU Summit on The Open Internet and Net Neutrality in Europe"  Brussels, 11 November 2010 

 

An Internet  slow lane of best efforts and a fast-lane of  telco-surcharged managed services is being pushed by  Europe's  telecoms industry. Will  the EU resist it and support the needs of citizens? This was a key question arising out of the  EU summit on Net Neutrality.' 

The event was  a  political follow-up to the Telecoms Package process of 2009, and the outcome of citizen lobbying.  It was the final element of a consultation by the European Commission, which had an  objective  to ‘scrutinise  the open and neutral character of the Internet'  in Europe. 

 The packed venues at both the Commission and the Parliament, indicated the high level of current political interest in net neutrality in Europe.  The Commissioner for Information Society, Neelie Kroes, made a positive commitment that "the system as a whole, comprising multiple operators, should ensure that European consumers are able to easily access and distribute content, services and applications of their choice."

 

However, one immediate observation from attending the summit was how the ‘Net neutrality' discussion  swiftly  mutated  into a discussion on

Read more: Will the EU permit a slow-lane Internet?

How serious is the European Commission in getting to grips with net neutrality?

Does the net neutrality consultation mean that the EU will take on the citizens' concerns for civil rights and freedom of expression, as they were expressed in the Telecoms Package debate of 2009?

Earlier this month, the European Commission launched a consultation on net neutrality. The fact that this consultation exists at all is due to the power of citizen lobbying during the

Read more: Will EU net neutrality policy throw away civil rights?

The UK telecoms regulator has opened a consultation entitled  "Traffic management and ‘net neutrality'" which  provides eerie echoes of the EU Telecoms Package debate from 18 months ago.

 

The Ofcom consultation makes no pretence at preserving the neutrality of the Internet, and pushes away any debate on the interests of citizens - saying that this is a matter for government and not the regulator.  

 Ofcom's focus is on the network operators' right to use traffic management technology to block, throttle,  shape, prioritise and degrade users' communications.   Reading the consultation closely, Ofcom is not consulting on whether we should permit traffic management, or even whether  any limits should be put on it. Rather, the consultation concerns 

Read more: Ofcom: net neutrality or net destruction?

Neelie Kroes, commissioner designate for the Digital Agenda (formerly Information Society) has said that it is clear the net neutrality will be central to her policy agenda. But a closer analysis of her answers to the European Parliament reveal quite a number of contradications. Not least of which was her position on ACTA.

Neelie Kroes was speaking at her 'job interview' with the European Parliament, where she was quizzed by members of the Internal Market and Industry committees.

Asked specifically about her policy on net neutrality by MEP Lena Ek, she said in reply: "I believe that net neutrality is

Read more: Neelie Kroes: can she protect Net Neutrality?

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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.