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European net neutrality discussions close

Online consultation draws strong opinions
Tue Oct 16 2012, 16:49
A hand on a computer keyboard

EUROPEAN DISCUSSIONS on the openness of the internet closed yesterday with pressure groups asking that net neutrality be enshrined in law.

The consultation was opened in July and asked groups and individuals to respond. When it launched, the European Commission asked respondents to consider issues like transparency and traffic management.

"Today there is a lack of effective consumer choice when it comes to internet offers. I will use this consultation to help prepare recommendations that will generate more real choices and end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe," said European Commission VP Neelie Kroes.

In France, La Quadrature du Net said that ensuring net neutrality in law is the only way to ensure a level playing field and fair and proper behaviour from incumbent telcos.

"Preventing operators from introducing differentiated QoS interconnection policies is indeed of paramount importance to protect the Internet from legitimate traffic management policies that would hurt freedom of communication and innovation online," it wrote in its response.

"One of the goals of EU-wide network neutrality safeguards should be to provide a consistent and enforceable framework to assess whether traffic management practices are reasonable."

Patrick Clark, head of the telecoms practice at law firm Taylor Wessing said that to date transparency has been hard to achieve and pondered whether, with this in mind, the EC might choose to take the firmer line.

"While formal legislation is rare, a number of informal 'voluntary' schemes have been set up in various countries, including the UK, which seek to address these issues without the need for formal regulation," he said.

"It will be interesting to see whether the responses received through the consultation process encourage the Commission to take firmer action than they have done so far. [With] the consumer's interest as its paramount concern it is still possible that a solution involving direct regulatory intervention may be the result rather than reliance upon voluntary codes of practice and self-regulation."

Loz Kaye, leader of the UK Pirate Party is worried that the consultation just pays lip service to the idea of net neutrality, and called on European ministers to actually do something concrete.

"We think the consultation was a bit of a wet blanket, to be honest. The measures being discussed, the so-called 'transparency' proposals of the Telecoms Package aren't anywhere near enough. We know that traffic-shaping and restrictions are widespread across the EU, we know that the fundamental principles of a free and open Internet are under threat from oligopolistic telcos and big business," he told The INQUIRER.

"We also know that national regulators don't have enough power to deal with the problem. What we actually need the EU to do is step up and enact some real Net Neutrality legislation, along the same lines as the Dutch, Chileans or Peruvians." µ


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