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Net Neutrality

European Union Takes Its Own Open Internet Stance

WASHINGTON, November 6, 2009 – While the U.S. takes steps to make so-called Network Neutrality principles mandatory under official rules, the European Union moved forward this week with its own set of internet access requirements. Under the proposed EU rules, “national telecoms authorities will have the powers to set minimum quality levels for network transmission services” so as to promote Net neutrality or “net freedoms” for European citizens.

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WASHINGTON, November 6, 2009 – While the U.S. takes steps to make so-called Network Neutrality principles mandatory under official rules, the European Union moved forward this week with its own set of internet access requirements.

Under the proposed EU rules, “national telecoms authorities will have the powers to set minimum quality levels for network transmission services” so as to promote Net neutrality or “net freedoms” for European citizens.

In addition, owing to new transparency requirements, consumers must be informed – before signing a contract – about the nature of the service to which they are subscribing. Such disclosures must include traffic management techniques and their impact on service quality, as well as any other limitations (such as bandwidth caps or available connection speed),” according to a document posted Thursday on the portal web site of the European Union.

The Net neutrality principles outlined above are part of a telecom reform package that members of the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers agreed upon this week following intense negotiations.

The reforms were originally proposed by the European Commission in November 2007, though the sections to “reinforce the neutral character of the internet” and an internet freedom provision, are both new. If the final text of the reform package is passed by Parliament and Council in the next eight weeks without amendments, the new rules could go into force in early 2010.

The Net neutrality section of the telecom package holds that the new rules will ensure that European consumers can choose among competing broadband service providers. “Internet service providers have powerful tools at their disposal that allow them to differentiate between the various data transmissions on the internet, such as voice or ‘peer-to-peer’ communication.

Even though traffic management may allow premium high-quality internet protocol TV services to develop and can help ensure secure communications, the same techniques may also be used to degrade the quality of other services to unacceptably low levels or to strengthen dominant positions on the market,” according to the EU document.

The European Commission said this week that it plans to continue to “keep the neutrality of the internet under close scrutiny and to use its existing powers as well as new instruments available under the reform package to report regularly on the state of play in net neutrality to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.”

EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding noted that “Under the reformed rules, the Commission will be Europe’s first line of defense when it comes to net neutrality.”

Last month in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission approved controversial proposed rules governing internet access. Meanwhile, a number of bills filed in Congress seek to either prevent or support Net neutrality regulation.

Net neutrality was not the only tough issue the EU has addressed in its reform package. Another important section has to do with a persons’ right to use the Internet until convicted of a crime. “Three-strikes-laws,” which could cut off internet access without a prior fair and impartial procedure or without effective and timely judicial review, will certainly not become part of European law,” clarified Reding.

Also in the telecom package are clauses concerning consumer rights, data security, and competition.

The consumer protection clause states that “names, email addresses and bank account information of the customers of telecoms and internet service providers, and especially the data about every phone call and internet session, need to be kept safe from accidentally or deliberately ending up in the wrong hands.”

The rules introduce mandatory notifications for personal data breaches for the first time in the EU and give internet service providers the right to take legal action against spammers.

The package makes it mandatory for European consumers to be able to change within one working day a fixed or mobile operator while keeping their old telephone number. Consumers cannot sign a new service contract with an operator for more than 24 months. The package further requires that consumers receive better information on the communications services they sign up for and that European citizens have better access to emergency services when using new technologies.

The rules seek to eliminate political interference in national telecom regulators duties and to protect “against arbitrary dismissal for the heads of national regulators.”

The legislative package would also establish a new European telecommunications authority and seeks to make radio spectrum available for wireless broadband services in areas where building a new fiber network is too expensive.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Net Neutrality

For or Against, It’s Time To Consider Codifying Net Neutrality In Law, Panelists Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Morgan Reed from C-SPAN

March 18, 2021 – The issue of net neutrality has captured more bandwidth than needed and the concept – either for or against – must be codified in the law so the issue doesn’t surface every election cycle, the president of the App Association said during a Federal Communications Bar Association event Thursday.

“Absent congressional action, this yo-yo will continue,” said Morgan Reed, whose organization represents app makers and connected device companies. Reed proposed Congress deal with the matter by, once and for all, putting it in the Telecommunications Act.

The debate about net neutrality, which stipulates that all internet traffic should be treated equally and that no telecom should be able to accept payment to speed up applications, has picked up since the Federal Communications Commission changed leadership and President Joe Biden took office.

The acting chairwoman has been a supporter of net neutrality. Biden’s justice department dropped a lawsuit recently challenging a proposed net neutrality law in California, which AT&T said forced it to stop offering free services because it would not be able to give it preferential treatment under the proposed law.

All roads seem to point to the reinstatement of net neutrality rules once instated by the Obama-era FCC but was reversed by the Trump-era regulator.

Currently, telecommunications is categorized as a Title I service, meaning it is spared from additional FCC regulatory burdens like managing content over its networks. That can be reversed if it is reclassified as a Title II, which effectively bring it under the ambit of the net neutrality rules.

Kristine Hackman, vice president of policy and advocacy at US Telecom, said operating under Title I regulations is not appropriate and outdated.

“We can’t regulate internet well with a statute that was written before World War II!” She defended ISPs and said they are not engaging in throttling, despite what she called false accusations suggesting otherwise, and said it is not in their natural conscience to even try to throttle since the consumer is in their minds.

Part of the issue with the approach to net neutrality is the confusion surrounding who governs the issues. Jon Peha, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said that the newspapers these days confuse legal authority with the rules, saying the FCC’s authority to regulate is muddied with what authority the Federal Trade Commission has. He said the current position of the FCC is that it has no authority to deal with net neutrality, privacy, and even pole attachments, explaining that its authority over communications infrastructure is unclear.

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Copyright

Public Knowledge Celebrates 20 Years of Helping Congress Get a Clue on Digital Rights

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot of Gigi Sohn from Public Knowledge's 20th anniversary event

February 27, 2021 – The non-profit advocacy group Public Knowledge celebrated its twentieth anniversary year in a Monday event revolving around the issues that the group has made its hallmark: Copyright, open standards and other digital rights issues.

Group Founder Gigi Sohn, now a Benton Institute for Broadband and Society senior fellow and public advocate, said that through her professional relationship with Laurie Racine, now president of Racine Strategy, that she became “appointed and anointed” to help start the interest group.

Together with David Bollier, who also had worked on public interest projects in broadcast media with Sohn, and is now director of Reinventing the Commons program at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, the two cofounded a small and scrappy Public Knowledge that has become a non-profit powerhouse.

The secret sauce? Timing, which couldn’t have been better, said Sohn. Being given free office space at DuPont Circle at the New America Foundation by Steve Clemmons and the late Ted Halstead, then head of the foundation, was instrumental in Public Knowledge’s launch.

The cofounders met with major challenges, Sohn and others said. The nationwide tragedy of September 11, 2001, occurred weeks after its official founding. The group continued their advocacy of what was then more commonly known as “open source,” a related grandparent to the new “net neutrality” of today, she said.

In the aftermath of September 11, a bill by the late Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C., demonstrated a bid by large copyright interest to force technology companies to effectively be the copyright police. Additional copyright maximalist measures we launched almost every month, she said.

Public Knowledge grew into something larger than was probably imagined by the three co-founders. Still, they shared setbacks and losses that accompanied their successes and wins.

“We would form alliances with anybody, which meant that sometimes we sided with internet service providers [on issues like copyright] and sometimes we were against them [on issues like telecom],” said Sohn. An ingredient in the interest group’s success was its desire to work with everyone.

Congress didn’t have a clue on digital rights

What drove the trio together was a shared view that “Congress had no vision for the future of the internet,” explained Sohn.

Much of our early work was spend explaining how digitation works to Congress, she said. The 2000s were a time of great activity and massive growth in the digital industry and lawmakers at the Hill were not acquainted well with screens, computers, and the internet. They took on the role of explaining to members of Congress what the interests of their constituents were when it came to digitization.

Public Knowledge helped popularize digital issues and by “walking [digital information] across the street to [Capitol Hill] at the time created an operational reality with digitization,” said Bollier.

Racine remarked about the influence Linux software maker Red Hat had during its 2002 initial public offering. She said the founders of Red Hat pushed open source beyond a business model and into a philosophy in ways that hadn’t been done before.

During the early days of Public Knowledge, all sorts of legacy tech was being rolled out. Apple’s iTunes, Windows XP, and the first Xbox launched. Nokia and Sony were the leaders in cellphones at the time, augmenting the rise of technology in the coming digital age.

Racine said consumers needed someone in Washington who could represent their interests amid the new software and hardware and embrace the idea of open source technologies for the future.

Also speaking at the event was Public Knowledge CEO Chris Lewis, who said Public Knowledge was at the forefront of new technology issues as it was already holding 3D printing symposiums before Congress, something totally unfamiliar at the time.

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Net Neutrality

Serious Conversation Needed on Net Neutrality, Says New FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Nate Simington

February 16, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said Tuesday that serious conversations need to be had about reforming net neutrality rules.

Simington sits on a very different-looking FCC, which includes net neutrality advocates including Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Net neutrality regulations banning broadband providers from blocking or throttling internet traffic were repealed by the Trump Administration-era FCC in December 2017.

Speaking at a Free State Foundation event, Simington said that communications companies should be permitted to manipulate traffic for revenue – speeding up some traffic for whichever content provider pays – even though it exacerbates the oligopoly problem in the U.S. The reason? Many Americans don’t even have access to high-speed internet.

At the same time, he also argued that no broadband provider should be able to throttle data.

And he also argued that the internet should be treated like a utility with minimum standards, especially now that the pandemic has proved the importance of connectivity. “If utilities aren’t allowed to provide poor service, why should internet service providers be able to?” he said.

Simington also touched on the need for broadband infrastructure as people have become reliant on broadband at-home during the pandemic. “America’s hunger for wireless bandwidth has gone parabolic in the last 10 years,” he said.

Simington said that major players in the wired infrastructure industry are setting minimum bandwidth and latency – the speed of real-time communications – standards that would have seemed absurdly high just a few years ago.

Simington also said he believes funding and regulating infrastructure should be delegated properly between the state and federal government. States can and should have a role to play in regulating industries, he said.

Simington said he hopes that, in celebration of the 25-year anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, that Congress considers a refresh of the law as newer technologies, such as video communication, emerges.

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