Network neutrality advocates are hoping the rest of Europe will be inspired by the Dutch government’s work to protect the Internet using legislation.
On Tuesday, Dutch lawmakers were supposed to approve telecom legislation that includes provisions to ensure network neutrality, but the vote was postponed until next week. Under the provisions of the proposed law, operators in the Netherlands will not be allowed to block Internet applications, charge extra for them or prioritize one application over another.
“Our hope would be that the Dutch example will be followed by others, because the issues at stake are as big as the Internet itself,” said Joe McNamee, advocacy coordinator at European Digital Rights (EDRi).
The Internet has democratic and economic value thanks to its openness, according to McNamee. Anything that is done by either governments or private companies to create barriers has vast potential danger, he said.
The work on legislation done in the Netherlands shows that there are problems related to network neutrality today, including mobile operators across Europe blocking VoIP traffic, according to Kostas Rossoglou, senior legal officer at European consumer organization BEUC.
“So governments should not hesitate to adopt legislation,” Rossoglou said.
For now, the European Commission has taken a wait-and-see approach to network neutrality, a move that isn’t getting rave reviews among advocates for legislation.
The Commission has made a lot of statements on the need to keep the Internet open, but in practice the body is making a big mistake in adopting its current position, according to McNamee.
“The Commission had a wait-and-see approach on local-loop unbundling and it turned out the market wasn’t able to deal with that. In the end it had to regulate, somewhat too late,” McNamee said.
The same thing happened with mobile roaming, according to McNamee. Having had those repeated experiences with taking a wait-and-see approach, the Commission still did the same thing again, he said.
But all is not lost. The European organization of regulators, BEREC, is looking at the European market, and will have to present a report to the European Commission by the end of the year on any problems related to network neutrality, according to Rossoglou.
“The Commission has said it needs more evidence from regulators and if they get that we can adopt legislation. So something may happen by the end of the year,” said Rossoglou.
Operators, on the other hand, are fighting any network neutrality regulation on either the national or European level.
Transparency is important for consumers, according to Thierry Dieu, communications manager at the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association.
But at the same time it is important that operators have the possibility to manage traffic, handle growing traffic volumes and introduce differentiated packages with different services, applications and prices, which will help them sustain investments in next-generation networks, Dieu said.