EU Stakeholders Tell Commission Net Neutrality Is Essential

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Almost all the feedback to a European Commission consultation on net neutrality stressed the importance of preserving an open Internet, but stopped short of calling for minimum quality-of-service rules.

The public consultation, launched on June 30, received input from 318 stakeholders including operators, ISPs, national authorities, consumer and civil society organizations as well as individuals.

There is no firm definition of "net neutrality," but the Commission takes the view that it represents the idea that all data on the Internet should be treated equally, whatever its source or destination.

Most respondents felt that the European Union's telecom framework, adopted in 2009, is sufficient legislation on net neutrality and that further review is not necessary until it has been implemented and applied at the national level.

ISPs differentiate between the various data transmissions as a matter of course in order to make best use of their networks and avoid congestion. But this "traffic management" could also be used to slow down access to non-prioritized services or applications. Under the telecom framework, national telecom authorities have the power to set minimum quality levels for network transmission services.

In addition, consumers must be informed, before signing a contract, about the nature of the service to which they are subscribing, including traffic management techniques and their impact on service quality as well as any other limitations (such as bandwidth caps or available connection speed). But many respondents to the consultation said that transparency by itself is not enough.

"By intercepting traffic data, traffic management mechanisms may breach the confidentiality of communications, which is a fundamental right. Taking this into account the EDPS insists that privacy and data protection aspects must be taken into account by the Commission when considering policies on net neutrality and traffic management," said the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS).

The Motion Picture Association said that neutrality should only apply to legal content. The association added that traffic management could be usefully used to slow illegal file sharing and that such methods should be kept secret in order to prevent users circumventing them. "Discrimination between authorized and unauthorized content should under no circumstances be deemed unfair," said the organization in its response. It further added that "minimum quality of service requirements are only appropriate for lifeline services, such as VoIP or Internet telephony".

By contrast, Yahoo said that end users rightly expect that in purchasing access to the Internet, they have paid for access to the whole Internet, including the ability to communicate unhindered with any and all other end users. As more users take advantage of services that require a high level of data transfer, such as Internet television, video sharing and VoIP, this principle is even more important to consumers. Meanwhile, Dailymotion, a French competitor of YouTube, said it would not be able to profitably exist if it had to pay ISPs to carry its content. This raises the concern that a less free Internet would also have less content.

Further discussion will continue on Thursday at the Net Neutrality Summit. The Commission will use the feedback to draw up a net neutrality report, which is due to be presented by the end of this year.

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