The European Commission has reported back on the results of a net neutrality consultation, held earlier this year, that revealed extensive worries over the anti-competitive effects that might arise from operators' plans.
"Our public consultation has attracted a wide range of responses," digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement on Tuesday. "The exercise has provided the Commission with a very broad spectrum of views from all those interests involved." According to the statement, the consultation showed "there is a near consensus on the importance of preserving the openness of the internet".
The issue of net neutrality is at one level about the ability of telecoms operators to apply traffic management to their networks, which is something they already do to varying degrees. The more sensitive part of the issue is how traffic management might be used as a way to get content providers to pay to have their services presented to consumers at a higher quality than rivals' services.
According to the Commission, there is "consensus that traffic management is a necessary and essential part of operating a secure and efficient network". However, the statement added, "some respondents have raised concerns that this tool could be used to favour one service over another".
Responding to the consultation, the body of EU telecoms regulators, Berec, warned that traffic discrimination could have anti-competitive effects and a negative impact on freedom of speech. Content providers also noted that, if operators charge them to have their traffic prioritised over that of rivals, this "might amount to a tax on innovation", the Commission said.
The Commission also noted worries over privacy risks that would arise from the deep packet inspection (DPI) techniques used by operators to distinguish one type of traffic from another. Many respondents were also concerned about the blocking of VoIP services and bandwidth throlling of sites.
"The responses included few calls for minimum quality-of-service requirements at this stage, but clear support for industry-wide standards on transparency to enable consumers to make informed choices," the Commission said. "Many respondents consider that transparency by itself would not allay all net neutrality concerns, particularly where there are barriers to switching between internet service providers."
The consultation, which ran from 30 June to 30 September, saw responses from 318 regulators, operators, internet service providers, national authorities, consumer and civil society organisations, and individuals. According to a statement from the Commission on Tuesday, the debate will continue at a 11 November net neutrality summit, which will be followed by a report on the matter.