D-day for European Net Neutrality

by Frode Sorensen

EP

Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority (NPT) congratulates Europe with a step in the right direction regarding protection of net neutrality for users of the Internet. The vote in the European Parliament Thursday 3 April 2014 showed a great enthusiasm for the open Internet, and so did many of the activities influencing the political process prior to the decision in the Parliament.

Originally posted at Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority.

The European Commission proposed their Connected Continent regulation on 11 September 2013. From then, parliamentarian committees and lobbying organizations have worked hard to influence the content of the proposed regulation, and in particular its net neutrality provisions. Also BEREC has had a clear voice in this discussion.

The road is still long, until the fate of this struggle for a better Internet in Europe has been concluded. There are strong opinions both for and against net neutrality regulation. But probably all stakeholder will agree that any regulation adopted should provide clear guidance to operators as well as regulators, to avoid any regulatory uncertainty. Next stage coming up will be handling in the Council of the European Union.

Specialised services in the frontline

The exchange in the Parliament on Wednesday 2 April made it clear to everyone – specialised services are essential for the regulation of net neutrality. Members of Parliament seem to have taken this concept to their heart, but with varying views regarding how it should actually be understood. This was also reflected in the competing amendments proposed for voting on Thursday.

However, the specialised service concept is designed for a balanced approach for net neutrality. On the one hand, these services should be clearly separated from the Internet access service, to ensure protection of net neutrality on the Internet. On the other hand, these services allow alternative business models to the “ecosystem” of the Internet.

Puppies and ostriches

The debaters have used strong words in the intense period prior to the vote. Major opponents in the public discourse have been civil society versus the e-communication industry, and both sides have used statements from BEREC to support their own arguments. Examples are the net neutrality campaign site supported by several interest groups, and the statement on the open Internet debate presented jointly by Cable Europe, ECTA, ETNO and GSMA.

From time to time, colourful analogies were used, ranging from the “puppy effect” to hints about ostriches that have “buried their heads in the sand”. And while Luigi Gambardella (ETNO) claimed that “specialized services are part of the Internet as we know it”, commissioner Neelie Kroes explained that “they [specialised services] must be delivered on distinct and additional network capacity”.

The nitty-gritty details

Where do we stand now, with the current version of definitions adopted by the Parliament? First of all, the general principle of a net neutrality service model is supported. This focuses the upcoming discussion on clarifying how to apply the model. To this end, it is important to ensure regulatory certainty when the model is used.

Regarding the definition of specialised services, it is important to ensure that such services are separated from Internet access services at the network layer. Is this really clear from the current wording “logically distinct capacity” and “strict admission control”? BEREC’s guidelines propose that specialised services and Internet access services “are provided over distinct networks”.

Regarding the definition of Internet access services, this seems very idealistic in its current version. But imagine an Internet service provider offering a service that gives access to a limited part of the Internet, e.g. Facebook only, or some combination of websites. To which of the two definitions would that fit? None of them? If the latter is correct, will it then be exempted from the whole regulation?

Keep up the good work on net neutrality!

For more information about specialised services, refer to “The NN service model explained”.

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