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Commissioner: Competition May Not Provide Net Neutrality

Competition alone may not be enough to keep the Internet open, the European Digital Agenda commissioner said Thursday.

"In general, providers have upheld the principle of open access -- end users may access most of the applications and services of their choice," said Commissioner Neelie Kroes at a summit on net neutrality in Brussels. "However, blocking and 'throttling' of sites and applications or applying differentiated end-user data charges for certain applications continues to a certain extent."

Her views were echoed by Frederic Donck, director of the Internet Society's European Regional Bureau. "Competition is essential to keeping the Internet open, but it must go hand in hand with equal commitment to transparency and access. We believe that competition should facilitate an innovative digital economy. But that might not be enough," Donck said.

Kroes and Donck also agreed that Internet consumers should be clearly informed about their provider's practices and should be able to switch Internet service providers easily. "Consumers need clear, easy-to-understand comparative information to help them to distinguish between services offered by competitors," said Donck. "The Internet Society believes that Internet access should mean provision of connectivity to the global Internet without any regard to the destination, source, or content of subscriber traffic."

Proponents of net neutrality are concerned that traffic management by its very nature impinges on the principle of an open Internet. However Kroes said that most respondents to the recent Commission consultation on net neutrality agreed that traffic management is essential "to avoid bottlenecks and to allow the development of new bandwidth-hungry services and applications." Kroes added, however, that it should not become simply a means of exploiting current network constraints.

The current legislation to tackle potential net neutrality problems is contained in the 2009 Telecoms Package, and the Commission's consultation did not reveal a widespread call for further E.U. legislation, but rather that additional guidance may be needed in the future.

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