Net neutrality in Norway – background and results

by Frode Sorensen

OECD connected televisions

The Norwegian guidelines for net neutrality were launched in 2009, prepared by a working group led by the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority (NPT). These guidelines have often been referred to since then, for example by the European Commission in connection with their engagement in net neutrality. (1) This post sets out the background to the Norwegian experience.

Originally published in the OECD report “Connected televisions: convergence and emerging business models

The net neutrality debate came to Norway in 2006. The media reported incidents(2) that tended to indicate that some Internet service providers had begun to throttle traffic-intensive applications such as streaming and p2p file sharing. Net neutrality was already a known concept, especially after the FCC had established principles for the open Internet in 2005 in the United States. (3)

Against this background, NPT began a study of net neutrality, that later led to the Norwegian guidelines for net neutrality. The incidents reported by the media tended to indicate a move away from a best effort Internet, which treated all users equally, and NPT wanted to prevent such a situation from developing. The reported incidents were resolved without NPT having to take action, but the situation was a reminder that the Internet would not necessarily remain neutral and that it would be important to follow developments closely.

The incidents can be looked upon as a reaction from Internet service providers to the growth of Internet traffic, although traffic growth has been rapid throughout the lifetime of the Internet. NPT believes it is legitimate for Internet service providers to manage traffic on the Internet, but this should be done in a neutral way. An important criterion for such neutrality is that any limitation to traffic volume should be done independently of the application that is the source of the traffic. (4)

NPT has formulated the following objective for work on net neutrality: “The overall goal for net neutrality is to ensure that the Internet remains an open and non-discriminatory platform for all types of communication and content distribution”.

The Norwegian model

The Norwegian model for net neutrality can be described as co-regulation. Co-regulation is a form of self-regulation under the active leadership of the regulator (in this case NPT). In this way, NPT has been able to set clear goals for the guidelines that were developed, while at the same time the various parties in the industry have been able to balance each other’s views. In 2008, NPT set up a working group consisting of three main groups: (i) Internet service providers, (ii) content and application providers and (iii) consumers, represented by the consumer associations.

The Norwegian guidelines for net neutrality were launched in 2009. (5) Parties that have not formally endorsed the guidelines also seem to follow them in practice. Since then, the working group that developed the guidelines has acted as a reference group that has met once a year to discuss developments in the industry and whether the guidelines are functioning as intended. So far, the conclusion from these meetings has been that the guidelines function as they should and that no update is necessary as yet.

In recent years, some European countries have chosen to establish statutory net neutrality; both the Netherlands and Slovenia have done this. Other countries also have ongoing discussions by policy makers, such as in Belgium and France. In Norway, however, the co-regulatory approach has so far made it unnecessary to regulate net neutrality by law. This model has worked as a useful tool for achieving the goal of neutral Internet services for Norwegian end users.

At the same time, there is no guarantee that this state of affairs will continue, and in the proposals for amendments to the Electronic Communications Act it can be noted that the “Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority and the ministry are following developments and will if necessary consider regulatory measures if it proves that a voluntary arrangement is insufficient to ensure good development in line with the overall goals”.(6)

The Norwegian Guidelines

The Norwegian guidelines for net neutrality consist of three principles that prescribe (I) transparency regarding users’ Internet access service and any specialized services(7) and (II) non-blocking and (III) non-throttling of specific applications and content, except for reasonable traffic management. (8) When the effects for these guidelines are considered, it is relevant to look at conditions in other countries.

The well-known breaches of net neutrality, in the United States, are Madison River’s blocking of voice over IP in 2005 and Comcast’s throttling of p2p file sharing in 2008. (9) It was claimed, at one stage, that the need for net neutrality was specific to the United States but it gradually became known that several European providers of mobile Internet access blocked voice over IP so as to prevent loss of income by their own mobile telephone services. (10)

The most common restrictions in Europe are blocking or throttling of p2p traffic and voice over IP. Data published by BEREC(11) in 2012 shows that among European Internet users, at least 21% experience restrictions in the use of p2p applications in the fixed network. In the mobile network, at least 36% experience restriction of p2p traffic and at least 21% experience restrictions in the use of voice over IP.

Given that video streaming is in the process of taking over from p2p file sharing as the most traffic-intensive application, (12) it is not improbable that this will be the next application that could be throttled or blocked. Today, when connected television seems to be a new trend, such restrictions would have negative consequences for innovation in future television services. Or, one can aim at net neutrality and let the Internet economy blossom!

References:
(1) Communication from the Commission, The open internet and net neutrality in Europe, EC-comm-19042011
(2a) ITavisen: “Slutten på norsk nettnøytralitet”, 2 October 2006, http://www.itavisen.no/nyheter/slutten-på-norsk-nettnøytralitet-20577
(2b) Nettavisen: “Derfor blir NRK dårlig”, 3 October 2006, http://www.nettavisen.no/it/article757490.ece
(2c) ITavisen: “Canal Digital struper fildelingstrafikk”, 22 September 2006, http://www.itavisen.no/nyheter/canal-digital-struper-fildelingstrafikk-20651
(3) Policy statement FCC 05-151, Federal Communications Commission, 23 September 2005
(4) IETF RFC 6057 Comcast’s Protocol-Agnostic Congestion Management System, December 2010
IETF RFC 6789, Congestion Exposure (ConEx) Concepts and Use Cases, December 2012
(5) Norwegian Guidelines for Net Neutrality, Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority, February 2009, http://eng.npt.no/ikbViewer/Content/109604/Guidelines%20for%20network%20neutrality.pdf
(6) Amendments to the Electronic Communications Act , Proposition to the Storting (bill), Prop. 69 L (2012–2013)
(7) A typical example of a specialized service is IPTV supplied on a closed network (i.e. not over the internet) which can, in principle, be considered a modern form of cable TV.
(8) Examples of reasonable traffic management include blocking child pornography and security measures against attacks aimed at denial the service and similar threats.
(9) Report and order FCC 10-201, Federal Communications Commission, December 2010
(10) The future of mobile voice: scenarios for market evolution, Analysis Mason, September 2011
(11) A view of traffic management and other practices resulting in restrictions to the open Internet in Europe, BEREC, May 2012
(12) ATLAS Internet Observatory Report, 2009, Arbor Networks>

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