Brussles to tackle online blocking and throttling
By Benjamin Fox
Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes is to draft legislation on 'net neutrality' following data that between 20 and 50 percent of European Internet providers use software to block online access.
In a press statement released on Tuesday (29 May), she said the regulators had "provided the data I was waiting for."
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Her move comes after a report by a group of national Internet regulators (Berec) revealed that a sizeable minority of Europeans have broadband contracts that give operators the power to limit access to services like Voip (voice over Internet Protocol) or file-sharing.
Meanwhile, the regulators found that 49 of the 266 fixed network operators and 41 of the 115 mobile networks had reported restrictions on peer-to-peer traffic.
"Given that Berec's findings highlight a problem of effective consumer choice, I will prepare recommendations to generate more real choices and end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe," said Kroes.
"For the first time we know that at least 20 percent, and potentially up to half of EU mobile broadband users have contracts that allow their Internet service provider to restrict services like Voip or peer-to-peer file sharing."
In its report, Berec took evidence from over 400 Internet operators, as well as consumer and industry associations. It saw that the blocking and "throttling" of peer-to-peer traffic and Voip traffic were the most common restrictions on fixed and mobile networks.
Bandwitdth throttling is the intenional slowing down of Internet service for targeted websites.
The European Commission launched the inquiry in April 2011 in a bid to acquire information about specific cases of manipulation of online traffic. The commission also indicated that evidence uncovered by Berec would form the basis of Internet policy making.
Demands for net neutrality follow concerns that Internet service providers use blocking or throttling tactics to restrict their users' communication and access to certain online products and services and instead promote services offered by themselves or partner companies.
Jeremie Zimmerman, spokesman for Internet freedom group La Quadrature du Net, said: "The Berec study clearly shows, telecoms operators are increasingly restricting their users' communications. Specific ports or protocols are often blocked, without adequate justification, and partner-services are being privileged at the expense of the rest of the Internet."
He added the commission should take steps to "ban operators from using the word 'Internet' if they block, throttle or charge differently for specific Internet services and applications."
Kroes has been keen to avoid member states introducing their own national rules on net neutrality, fearing this would lead to a fragmented rule-book and slow down the creation of a digital single market. Her home country, the Netherlands, is among several EU states to have national provisions on the issue.
Commission sources indicated that draft proposals will be adopted by the EU executive before the end of 2012.
Any moves to establish the principle of net neutrality are expected to be supported by the European Parliament. In November 2011, MEPs backed a resolution calling on the commission to assess the need for new regulation on web neutrality within six months of Berec publishing its findings.
The report also revealed that most service providers offer Internet services that are not subject to restrictions, however. The latest Berec figures say that 85 percent of all fixed Internet service providers and 76 percent of all mobile Internet providers propose at least one unrestricted offer.
But Kroes is demanding better customer information.
"Consumers also need to know if they are getting champagne or lesser sparkling wine. 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," she said.