VICE PRESIDENT of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has spoken up on net neutrality policy, saying that choice, preferred services, and openness are key.
Kroes was talking about net neutrality and the open internet last week, and she returned to the topic today in a speech entitled, "The EU, safeguarding the open internet for all".
"If the net neutrality debate shows anything, it is how important the internet has become. Not just basic broadband, but high quality connections that are open, fast, enabling. Connectivity is at the heart of our innovative future. And people care about it deeply," she said.
"Openness and liberty are values I am determined to defend everywhere... The Arab Spring showed us the power of the internet. So I am determined to support and champion that network. A network that is open and unified, and delivering democratic values. Across the world, and here in Europe."
Kroes said that balances must be struck in the "complex debate", adding that an open network that suits everyone is needed.
"The approach needs to follow not from ideology, but from an understanding of how that particular network actually operates. Then we can find the right way forward to preserve its benefits, project them into the future, and best protect users' interests," she said.
"Finding that balance is not simple. Some like to imply that it is: but I've never believed in policy by slogan. Safeguarding the open internet in practice is too important a goal to trivialise, or reduce to mere mottos."
Kroes said that net neutrality must be addressed as part of the move into the single telecoms market. She said that a failure to reach an agreement and take coordinated action would "shatter the fragile construction".
"If we don't address net neutrality, wider problems will arise and tomorrow's innovative services might have to stop at the border. I don't want to see that happen. And I will soon be putting forward proposals to ensure it doesn't," she said.
"For me, an open platform is built on competition, innovation transparency, and choice. And that is what our proposal will be built on too."
There are four parts to the Kroes plan, starting with a continued support for innovation. Kroes said that if someone wants to pay extra for the "right quality, end to end" systems, then they should be allowed to do so.
"It's not my job to ban people from buying those services, nor to prevent people providing them. If you don't want to buy them that is also fine, and you should absolutely continue to benefit from the 'best efforts internet'," she added.
Second comes transparency, and the need for consumers to know what is, and what is not included in an internet contract. Kroes said that contracts are too long and complex, adding "that's not good enough".
"After all, when you buy a carton of milk, you don't expect it to be half-empty: the same goes for 50 Megabit internet," she said.
Third is choice, and the ability for consumers to switch providers, without "excessive charges" and "countless obstructions, and fourth is increased competition.
"Most consumers see the richness and vibrancy of the full, unlimited internet and wouldn't want anything less. So to be honest, with genuine transparency, I doubt many consumers would care to buy such a limited product; I doubt many ISPs would offer one," added Kroes.
"But equally it's clear to me that many Europeans expect protection against such commercial tactics. And that is exactly the EU safeguard we will be providing. A safeguard for every European, on every device, on every network: a guarantee of access to the full and open internet, without any blocking or throttling of competing services." µ