EU Regulator Shows Operators Restrict Net Access, Deploy Intrusive Technologies

Paris, March 12th 2011 – BEREC, the body of EU telecoms regulators, has just published its preliminary findings1 regarding restrictions to Internet access imposed by operators across Europe. These first results confirm the reports submitted by citizens on the platform and show the urgent need for a EU-wide Net neutrality law.

“These preliminary findings prove that EU operators impose unjustifiable restrictions to Internet access on both fixed and mobile networks, such as blocking and throttling of P2P or VoIP services. BEREC also stresses that such restrictions are often imposed through privacy-invasive Deep Packet Inspection technologies, infamously used2 for Internet surveillance in oppressive regimes. Such widespread practices clearly show that EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes' ‘laisser-faire’ approach on Net neutrality3 allows operators to violate their users' freedom of communication and privacy. She can no longer deny the evidence and must urgently propose a EU-wide law on Net Neutrality, so as to ensure that freedoms online but also innovation and competition in the digital economy are protected.”, said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

In January, La Quadrature du Net responded4 to the BEREC consultation, based on the findings of the RespectMyNet platform. Although these only give a partial account of the situation, the response presented 144 confirmed reports of breaches to Net neutrality, concerning 44 operators in more than 14 Member States.

BEREC preliminary findings

  • The most frequently reported traffic management practices are the blocking and/or throttling of VoIP and peer-to-peer services.
  • When blocking/throttling is implemented in the network, it is typically done through Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
  • Further, BEREC has found a very wide range of practices across Europe, and an equally wide range of implementation methods and policy justifications for them (“security and integrity” concerns, congestion, etc.).
  • For congestion management, some operators use an “application-agnostic” approach (e.g. active buffering), while others use “application-specific” techniques (typically in order to throttle specific traffic, such as video streaming).
  • About one third of fixed operators manage their networks in order to offer specialised services (for the provision of facilities–based applications, e.g. telephony or TV) alongside a (public and best effort) Internet access service.
  • BEREC has also found a wide variety of data caps and “fair use” practices.

Timeline on Net Neutrality in the EU

  • 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, a citizen reporting platform for Net neutrality violations in the EU
  • April 19th, 2011 - The Commission releases a very disappointing report on Net neutrality.

La Quadrature du Net's proposals to safeguard Net neutrality

  • Lawmakers need to adopt a legal definition of the Internet that is based on the neutrality principle, in order to ensure the sustainability of its technical architecture.
  • The neutrality principle must apply to all Internet networks, regardless of access mode (landline or wireless). Exceptions to this principle in case of unforeseen congestion or security threat over the network must be carefully crafted and overseen.
  • Infringements to Net neutrality carried out by operators must be subject to dissuasive sanctions.
  • The balance between co-existing so-called "managed services" and the Internet on communications networks must be sustainable, in order to protect the quality of Internet access.
  • The use of packet inspection technologies must be regulated in order to protect the privacy of electronic communications and their integrity.