WASHINGTON April 25, 2011 - European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, Nellie Kroes, announced last week that her office, in conjunction with European Union member states, will investigate claims of throttling and service degradation by internet service providers.
“At the end of 2011, I will present the findings and will publicly name operators engaging in doubtful practices. I will be looking particularly closely for any instances of unannounced blocking or throttling of certain types of traffic, and any misleading advertising of broadband speeds,” Kroes said. “If I am not satisfied that consumers can counteract such practices by switching providers, I will not hesitate to introduce more stringent measures. That could be in the form of more prescriptive guidance, or even legislation if it is needed.”
Currently the European Union does not have any network neutrality or open internet requirements, but starting on May 25 a new set of regulations will become active that will promote transparency.
The new regulations will require ISPs to provide consumers with the actual speeds of their connection versus the advertised speeds. ISPs will also be subject to minimum quality requirements for network transmission and consumers will be allowed to switch their service provider within one working day.
“Customers are entitled to make informed choices about their internet provider on the basis of clear and accurate information about possible restrictions on access to particular services, actual connection speeds and possible limits on internet speeds,” said Kroes.
The new laws are the result of regulations passed in 2009. The goal of those regulations was to “preserve the open and neutral character of the internet, taking full account of the will of the co-legislators now to enshrine net neutrality as a policy objective and regulatory principle to be promoted by national regulatory authorities.”
The European Commission also issued a report last Tuesday on the current state of network neutrality. The Commission found that a number of ISPs in France, the United Kingdom, Greece among others throttle video streaming content. Providers in Germany, Italy and Portugal have either blocked or forced users to pay additional fees to use Voice over IP services.
The report also found that many ISPs conduct packet differentiation that treats VoIP traffic differently than streaming video or email. The ISPs would use this differentiation to speed up some types of traffic while slowing down other kinds.
In performing their review of ISPs, the Commission specifically cited the work done by the Federal Communications Commission citing the four net neutrality principals the commission adopted in 2005 as a strong framework.
The EU Commission traced the need for network neutrality back to its own Charter of Fundamental Rights: “In particular the respect for private and family life, the protection of personal data and freedom of expression and information. For this reason, any legislative proposals in this area will be subject to an in-depth assessment of their impact on fundamental rights and of their compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.”