Net neutrality? Let the market decide, says Europe's digital chief

Net neutrality? Let the market decide, says Europe's digital chief

Summary: Europe's digital chief Neelie Kroes supports the right of ISPs to choose how they manage internet traffic that flows over their networks.

TOPICS: EU, Broadband, Fiber, Legal

ISPs should not face heavy regulation of how they manage traffic on their networks, according to Europe's digital commissioner Neelie Kroes.

Telecoms providers should be able to impose restrictions on internet traffic they deliver over their neworks, Kroes wrote in an article for the French newspaper Libération.

ISP practices like inspecting internet traffic and restricting the flow of certain types of data violate the principle of net neutrality - the idea that no bit of information sent over the internet should be prioritised over another. With The Netherlands passing legislation last year guaranteeing net neutrality, there have been calls for the concept to be enshrined in European law - an idea that Kroes appears to reject.

"On net neutrality, consumers need effective choice on the type of internet subscription they sign up to. Choice should also drive innovation and investment by internet providers, with benefits for all," Kroes wrote in the Libération article published on Wednesday.

Speaking on Thursday, Kroes' official spokesman clarified what she meant by 'choice':

"Neelie Kroes supports people having real choice over their internet subscription. That absolutely includes a right to choose full internet service, but if an operator wants to sell you a basic package for a lower cost, and you want to choose that because it suits your needs or if you have a limited budget, then what is the problem with that?

"You shouldn't have to subsidise someone else's video appetite if you just want to check a few emails or Skype your grandchildren, for example."

"Consumers need effective choice on the type of internet subscription they sign up to" — Neelie Kroes

Kroes also said that telcos would need to make clear to consumers the type of internet access they were buying and the type of restrictions that would be applied to the service.

"On net neutrality, consumers need effective choice on the type of internet subscription they sign up to. That means real clarity, in non-technical language," she said in the Libération article.

The European commissioner's current stance appears to differ from her previous opposition to tiered access, which she expressed prior to taking over responsibility for Europe's digital agenda. In early 2010, she said ISPs "shouldn't be allowed to limit the access to service or content out of commercial motivation, but only in cases of security issues and spamming". However, more recently she has spoken out against such regulation.

Kroes implied on Wednesday that national telecoms regulators or the European regulatory body BEREC would be required to ensure that consumers were also able to purchase a "full" internet access - that is, without restrictions on how data is delivered - from the domestic telecoms market, under a forthcoming European Union recommendation.

"I am preparing a Commission initiative to secure this effective consumer choice in Europe," she said.

Topics: EU, Broadband, Fiber, Legal


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Er....

    I've never read "net neutrality" to mean that ISPs can't throttle heavy data users. I've always thought that "net neutrality" meant that ISPs could not throttle or limit internet access based on the sites a user is accessing. A 1 Gb dowload from Site X should not be slower than a 1Gb dowload from site Y just because site Y has paid the ISP to prioritize its connections (or because the ISP owns or is owned by site Y).
  • Throttling is not the same as prioritization

    "Common ISP practices like throttling the speed of internet access for heavy downloaders or at peak times violate the principle of net neutrality - the idea that no bit of information sent over the internet should be prioritised over another."

    Umm, what?

    Technically wrong.

    Throttling just means "we don't care what type of data it is, it's too much, so we're throttling it."

    Prioritization is using deep packet inspection to say "hey, that's a video - we're gonna prioritize it." Prioritization may or may not include throttling.

    Not the same.

    And net Neutrality I thought was at the server side - the side where Google and Netflix are - not the client side, where the average joe is.

    It has ALWAYS been the case that the average joe could pay more or less for tiered internet services. If that's the sense of the word you're talking about - then the net has never been neutral.

    I think Nick's a bit confused over the technical aspects of the issue . . .
  • nothing new

    Doesn't sound like either the author or the government officials have a clue.

    Too bad it hardly even matters since almost everywhere ISPs have monopolies on their areas.
  • no more editing posts??

    Good job zdnet.
    Fail just like this article.
  • Article

    @CobeaA1 You're right to point that out, I've updated the post.
    Nick Heath
  • The consequences are scary....

    If net neutrality is not protected at all I fear that behind the closed doors of the ISPs a pandoras box may be opened which results in them quietly filtering by domain name as well as content type. That would have pretty dire consequences...

    - winners - big business / corporates
    - losers - small business / consumers

    - big business has the money / influence to lobby politicians, and the money to pay the highest price in a market on paying ISPs to prioitise packets.
    - small / business consumers don't have the connections or money to lobby politicians. One of the big advantages small business has is being agile but that depends on having access to an equivalent platform to the one used by the big guys.

    - slows innovation at the the small & agile end of the market, lets face it innovation has high probably of needing more bandwidth not less, more video, more audio etc.
    - consumers are not going to benefit because they will have to assess to scales which will be overly confusing and just lead to people paying more for less. Right now consumers have to decide the "physical" scale of the package with factors like speed and the artificial download cap. But to add to that a second scale involving choosing data-type packages would just cause confusion. It would be like todays choice of cable/satelite tv packages but then adding a choice of how quickly/slowly reliably/unreliably you can receive them.

    In this day in age of recessions and economic slowness I think we should be doing as much we can to create a reliable and unencumbered internet framework on which small businesses can grow. That way we have bottom-up employment and industries with a growth future with lots of small businesses competing to be the best in their relevant spaces without getting trampled from above. Let the ISPs compete on business models of speed, peering and reliability, not on a business model of "pay up if you want your data to get through unfiltered".