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IP/10/1482

Brussels, 9 November 2010

Digital Agenda: consultation reveals near consensus on importance of preserving open internet

There is a near consensus on the importance of preserving the openness of the internet, according to the results of a public consultation launched on 30th June by the European Commission on the open internet and net neutrality (see IP/10/860). A total of 318 stakeholders at every level of the value chain provided input to the consultation. These included BEREC, the body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications, operators, internet service providers, Member States' authorities, consumer and civil society organisations as well as individuals. The consultation did not reveal a widespread call for further EU legislation, but there is an expectation that additional guidance may be needed in the future. Discussions will continue on 11th November at the "Net neutrality summit" at which the Commission and the European Parliament will discuss a forthcoming Commission report on net neutrality.

Vice-President Neelie Kroes said: "Our public consultation has attracted a wide range of responses. The exercise has provided the Commission with a very broad spectrum of views from all those interests involved. I look forward to continuing the discussions during the Summit which will contribute further to our work on net neutrality."

The public consultation ran from 30th June to 30th September. The Commission wanted to look more deeply into issues such as internet traffic management, transparency, quality of service considerations and whether the EU's new telecom rules are adequate. Among the main findings:

  • The EU's revised telecoms framework adopted in 2009 (see MEMO/09/568) is considered to provide the basic tools for dealing with net neutrality issues. The large majority of respondents consider that the effectiveness of these EU rules should not be assessed until it has been implemented and applied at national level.

  • There is consensus that traffic management is a necessary and essential part of operating a secure and efficient network. Nevertheless, some respondents have raised concerns that this tool could be abused to favour one service over another. There are also risks to privacy arising from 'packet-inspection' software.

  • Several respondents are concerned about new internet business models causing net neutrality problems in the future, and have asked the Commission to provide clarity on the distinction between the "best-efforts" internet and "managed services".

  • BEREC, the body of EU telecoms regulators, warned of possible problems of discrimination leading to anti-competitive effects, the potential longer-term consequences for the internet economy in terms of innovation and freedom of expression, and uncertainties for consumers due to lack of transparency.

  • Industry players are generally content with current market structures, but some content providers fear that changes to pricing mechanisms – e.g. payment for content delivery – might amount to a tax on innovation.

  • Blocking of phone services over the internet (i.e. Voice over Internet Protocol - VoIP) and bandwidth throttling of sites raise concerns for many respondents.

The responses included few calls for minimum quality-of-service requirements at this stage, but clear support for industry-wide standards on transparency to enable consumers to make informed choices. Many respondents consider that transparency by itself would not allay all net neutrality concerns, particularly where there are barriers to switching between internet service providers.

Background

As part of the 2009 EU telecoms reform package (see MEMO/09/568), the Commission committed itself to scrutinise closely the open and neutral nature of the internet and to report on the state of play to the European Parliament and the EU's Council of Ministers. The consultation on 'The open internet and net neutrality in Europe' ran for 3 months this summer, as part of the Commission's preparations for the report.

The analysis and responses are available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/ecomm/library/public_consult/index_en.htm


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