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The open internet and net neutrality

In 2009, the European Commission undertook a reform of telecoms legislation in the European Union (EU) and emphasised the need to monitor market and technological developments in relation to “net freedoms”. This Communication therefore responds to the desire to preserve an internet in line with those freedoms, i.e. an “open” and “neutral” internet.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 19 April 2011 - The open internet and net neutrality in Europe [COM(2011) 222 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

This Communication aims to promote the neutral and open character of the internet, in accordance with the Digital Agenda for Europe. The intention is to preserve the openness of the internet while enabling it to provide high-quality, innovative services, and to guarantee fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and freedom to conduct business.

The worldwide success of the internet may be explained in part by its openness and accessibility to all, individuals and companies alike. However, this Communication stresses that its full potential remains untapped.

Challenges to net neutrality

The concept of net neutrality is defined in part in the Framework Directive on electronic communications as the ability of end users to access and distribute information or run applications and services of their choice.

The current obstacles to net neutrality are:

  • the blocking or throttling of traffic by certain network operators, which takes the form of restricting access to internet services (online television, videoconferences, etc.) or to websites. The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and the national regulatory authorities (NRAs) may receive users’ complaints;
  • traffic congestion, which requires reasonable management. There are three different traffic management techniques to alleviate congestion:
    1. packet differentiation;
    2. IP routing;
    3. filtering, which makes it possible to distinguish between “safe” and “harmful” traffic.
  • lack of transparency, which prevents consumers from making informed choices in terms of services. NRAs are therefore obliged to set minimum quality of service requirements.

Regulatory framework concerning net neutrality

The provisions of the regulatory framework are structured around two principal elements:

  • the principles of competition: net neutrality is strongly correlated with market competition. It is therefore important that retail pricing of internet access is not regulated in the EU in order that consumers can benefit from a wide variety of services at different price points adapted to their needs.
  • the amended Telecommunications framework: this legislative framework was amended in 2009. It helps to preserve the open and neutral character of the internet by ensuring that consumers are informed about the:
    1. conditions limiting access to and/or use of services and applications;
    2. procedures put in place by the provider in order to measure and shape traffic so as to avoid filling all the network links.
    This framework also enables consumers to switch operators while keeping their numbers, within one working day.

Net neutrality is also strongly dependent on the protection of personal data.

Ways to preserve net neutrality and openness

The Commission is currently studying solutions to put in place to deal with obstacles caused by:

  • switching;
  • blocking practices;
  • throttling practices;
  • certain commercial practices at the root of blocking and throttling;
  • discriminatory practices by a dominant player.

However, the Commission must ensure that the measures taken do not hinder freedom of expression and freedom of information and continue to preserve private and family life as well as personal data.

Context

This Communication is based on the results of a public consultation on the open internet and net neutrality conducted between 30 June and 30 September 2010 with participants including network operators, content providers, Member States, consumer and civil society organisations and individuals.

The Commission intends to continue working with BEREC in order to adopt additional provisions on net neutrality.

Last updated: 03.08.2011

See also

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