EU Telecom Regulators' Wake Up Call on Net Neutrality

Brussels, May 30th, 2012 - In the first official assessement of the Internet access restrictions imposed by Internet access providers, EU telecom regulators depict a very alarming situation. The Internet as we know it is very much at threat, and the EU Commission's reluctance to take any resolute action on the matter is irresponsible. Like in the Netherlands where the Dutch Parliament adopted a Net Neutrality law earlier this month, Net Neutrality must be enacted into European law.

Thanks to this just-released study on traffic management and Internet access restrictions, EU policy-makers now have evidence that the situation requires action. The pro-competition, pro-transparency policies pushed by the EU Commission since 2009 can no longer be deemed sufficient.

"As the BEREC study clearly shows, telecoms operators are increasingly restricting their users' communications. Specific ports or protocols are often blocked, without adequate justification, and partner-services are being privileged at the expense of the rest of the Internet. The Net is being fragmented and innovators constrained, while big American online companies such as Google and Facebook make deals with access providers. In this context, the transparency approach pushed by the EU Commission comes down to whitewashing these ongoing practices", said Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson of La Quadrature du Net.

Neelies Kroes reacted to the BEREC findings, recognising that there was a problem, especially with the use of privacy-invasive monitoring of people's Internet traffic. She made a few proposals to which she already hinted last year, such as allowing consumers to switch more easily their provider while ensuring transparency regarding applied restrictions. But as La Quadrature has stressed multiple times over the past years, this can't be enough1. If the Commission really wants to protect fundamental rights online and incentivise investment in new networks2, it must legislate on the matter and provide strong legal protections for the free Internet.

"Commissioner Nellie Kroes' proposals refer soundly to the long standing principle of Net Neutrality, but they will have no effect if they fall short of decisive action. Net neutrality must be made into EU law, and provide a stricter framework paving the way for fine-tuned but effective regulation. As Mrs. Kroes timidly suggests, it is indeed of the utmost importance to ban operators from using the word "Internet" if they block, throttle or charge differently for specific Internet services and applications. Privacy invasive traffic monitoring practices must also be prohibited. All the data is on the table, now we need action." concluded Zimmermann.

The Commission's unfortunate lack of willingness to actually enforce Net neutrality shows that the EU Parliament and national lawmakers will have play a key role in pushing for meaningful measures in the next months, and so will citizens.

BEREC will conduct a consultation on various guidelines related to its findings on traffic management. Deadline is July 31st, 2012.

Timeline on Net Neutrality in the EU

  • March 13th, 2012 - BEREC releases preliminary finding regarding Net Neutrality violations across Europe. La Quadrature du Net responded to the BEREC consultation, based on the findings of the RespectMyNet platform.
  • December 13th, 2011 - EU Members States adopts conclusions stressing the need to "preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet and consider net neutrality as a policy objective"
  • November 17th, 2011 - The EU Parliament adopts a resolution calling on the Commission to swiftly assess the need for further regulation
  • October 7th, 2011 - In a ground-breaking opinion on Net neutrality, the European Data Protection Supervisor stresses that restrictions to Internet access inevitably harm privacy
  • September 22nd, 2011 - La Quadrature and Bits of Freedom release RespectMyNet.eu, a citizen reporting platform for Net neutrality violations in the EU
  • April 19th, 2011 - The Commission releases a very disappointing report on Net neutrality.

Key excerpts of the BEREC study

  • Some examples of special treatment for over-the-top traffic reported by fixed operators are prioritisation of certain kind of traffic or applications at peak times (such as HTTP, DNS, VoIP, gaming, instant messaging, etc.), and assigning lower priority to applications such as file downloading, P2P, etc. In mobile networks, it is worth to mention some cases of applications or websites which are excluded from the monthly data cap (HTTP traffic, customer care portals or applications such as Facebook).
  • As regards P2P, some level of restriction is reported by 49 operators (out of 266) on fixed networks and by 41 operators (out of 115) on mobile networks. As regards VoIP, some level of restriction is reported by 28 operators (out of 115) on mobile networks. Each of these types of restrictions affects at least 20% of subscribers.
  • A significant proportion of the operators explain that they implement dedicated traffic management measures in order to manage congestion. Providers of modern IP networks often perform congestion management within their own networks. These techniques vary from application-agnostic functions treating all traffic types equally (often referred to as “fair sharing” and similar methods) to application-specific functions performing throttling and/or blocking of specific applications (typically using deep packet inspection technologies).
  • About one third of the fixed operators indicate in their responses that specialized services are affecting, to some extent, the Internet best-effort service of customers using the same access network.
  • 1. EU regulators have been putting pressure on operators through working groups and recommendations, and plan a coordinated action at the EU level through BEREC. But ongoing efforts, in France in particular, show that existing regulatory tools are hardly effective to protect the free and neutral Internet. The French regulator Arcep has been convening working groups for the past months. One on Quality of Service, the other one on Transparency. The latter shows a worrying lack of regulatory power on the part of public authorities to address the worse practice, even though they often understand the need to protect network neutrality.
  • 2. According to Kroes, data caps "incentivise ISPs to price data volumes in ways that reflect costs". Such claim is contradicted by economic studies on the price of bandwidth. See http://www.pingzine.com/global-bandwidth-costs-decreasing/ and http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/03/att-officially-announces-data...
    Like with roaming regulation, the Commission must protect consumers from harmful pricing models.
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