[International Herald Tribune] U.S. lobbyists angle for influence in Europe's Net neutrality debate

BERLIN: As European lawmakers debate how to keep access to the Internet free and equal - so-called network neutrality - they are being bombarded, not unsurprisingly, by lobbyists.

But the corporate envoys roaming the halls of Brussels, trying to make their case, more often than not do not represent the Continent's myriad telecommunications and Internet companies, but rather those from the United States.


The U.S. companies see the outcome of the fight in Europe as key," said Jeremie Zimmermann,a lobbyist for La Quadrature du Net,an Internet advocacy group based in Paris. "Each side is hoping to score points on the issue here so they can take it back to the States to influence the outcome there."

Net neutrality, which La Quadrature supports, is a proposal backed by some free-speech advocates and Internet businesses that seeks to bar network operators from filtering Internet traffic. Operators say that basic traffic management is necessary to balance the soaring demand for bandwidth from video and popular Web sites.


AT&T, Verizon, the equipment maker Cisco and the European companies Liberty Global, Vodafone, Ericsson, VirginMedia and 3, an operator owned by Hutchison Whampoa, distributed a joint letter in February asking lawmakers to eliminate any neutrality mandate from the legislation.

"Proposals to mandate quality of service levels or require nondiscriminatory treatment of network traffic would not only adversely impact the quality of service received by consumers today, but it would also reduce future innovation and consumer choice," the letter said.

Not true, according to a response letter circulated among lawmakers by Yahoo; eBay; Skype, which is eBay's Internet phone unit; Google; and YouTube, which is owned by Google. The Internet companies offered lawmakers amendments that would give EU regulators the power to investigate and penalize operators for anticompetitive network management.