Thursday

28th May 2020

Opinion

Dangerous plans for Europe's Internet

  • "MEPs should not undercut one of Europe's greatest economic advantages with expensive regulation" (Photo: EUobserver)

Amid the economic carnage that has dominated headlines in recent months, one sign of hope is European telecommunications companies continuing to invest billions of euros into the continent's Internet systems.

Not only does this create and sustain jobs, it also allows more people to share in the Internet's benefits.

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Unfortunately these economic and social benefits are in jeopardy as policy makers at the European Parliament consider expensive rules that will, for the first time, give governments the ability to regulate the highly complex technologies underpinning Europe's Internet.

The particular proposal, contained in the proposed new telecoms package, would give regulatory authorities in the EU member states the power to regulate and micromanage the way that Internet service providers (ISPs) manage traffic on their networks.

These rules would stifle the Internet's growth and undercut a crucial economic advantage as Europe copes with global economy pressures.

For typical consumers, it would also invariably lead to increases in the cost of Internet access, possibly as much as 33 percent according to a recent study by Copenhagen Economics.

The policy proposal, now being amended in preparation for a scheduled series of votes in the spring, would give officials in Brussels and national regulators the ability to set minimum "quality of service standards" on the way data goes over the Internet.

Such language is dangerous for many reasons. First, the concept is so ill-defined that different bodies within the EU are likely to interpret it in different ways. That could lead to a nightmare of technical complexities and the strong possibility of expensive litigation.

Second, this new regulation threatens important improvements to Europe's Internet. Few industries are experiencing the kind of rapid, dynamic improvements that are taking place on the Internet.

Make no mistake: These improvements are vital given the increasing amount of video, television, music and other information speeding through the web. For example, the data sent by a single person during two hours of interactive online gaming roughly equals 3,000 photos, 5,000 e-mails, or a three-hour HD movie download.

Conflicting national rules

If the modernisation of Europe's Internet is suddenly held hostage to conflicting national rules interpreting "quality of service," then not only will users see worse and more expensive service but businesses that rely on fast communications will be at an increasing disadvantage.

Keep in mind that Europe faces economic pressures not only from developed economies such as the United States and Japan but also rising nations such as China and India.

Against these pressures, the EU has crucial advantages with our well-educated population and first-rate education systems. When combined with a world-class Internet system, these give the EU an important edge in industries capable of producing well-paying jobs.

Unfortunately, many of those advantages could be undermined if we fail to keep pace with Japan, South Korea, America and other nations in modernizing the infrastructure needed to leverage those assets. In particular, state-of-the art Internet technologies that continually evolve will be essential if Europe is to lead the world as the pre-eminent knowledge economy.

Anyone interested in a glimpse of the future of the EU's world-class Internet service should travel to the city of Hamar, Norway, about 120 kilometres north of Oslo.

For more than a decade, this city has hosted The Gathering, the world's second largest annual trade show for computer programmers and experts. For five days, more than 5,200 experts demonstrate stunning new applications for business, entertainment, gaming, and other uses.

Every hour of the festival an estimated 20,000 gigabytes of data pass through the Hamar networks. That is about equal to a DVD's worth of data every two seconds. And it shows the sort of possibilities available provided Europe maintains a first-rate Internet.

No other nation in the world is considering the kind of meddlesome regulation under consideration at the European Parliament.

Indeed, the Japanese government has explicitly rejected notions of "quality of service" for all data after filesharing programmes began using up so much network space that many users could not get adequate service. And the Japanese have the most advanced network system in the world!

The American government also considered similar rules but shelved them after hearing from many, including labour unions, that such rules would harm job growth.

With our economy at an increasingly precarious situation, the last thing we need is for the EP to undercut one of Europe's greatest economic advantages with expensive, pointless regulation.

Johnny Munkhammar is Research Director at the European Enterprise Institute in Brussels. He is the author of the new study, "Let the Internet Flourish: Why overregulation of the Internet is wrong for Europe": http://www.munkhammar.org/blog/pdf/LettheInternetFlourishEEI.pdf

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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