Governments should not be able to stop operators from charging content providers for carrying their services, a lobby group representing Europe's operators has proposed.
A bar on net neutrality legislation was one of several suggestions made last week by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO), in a submission to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
The ITU is in the process of revising some of the core rules that govern the internet. This has led to a wide debate about who should control the internet — the US-based ICANN, or the ITU, a UN agency — although ETNO's proposals have little do with internet governance issues.
"Nothing shall preclude commercial agreements with differentiated quality of service delivery to develop," read one of the proposed changes to the ITU's international telecommunication regulations (ITRs), as recorded in a submission (PDF) that was leaked last week before being confirmed by ETNO on Friday.
The other changes proposed by ETNO would enshrine in the ITRs the distinction between "end-to-end quality-of-service delivery" and "best-effort delivery". The former would be a new special class of service given to web content where the content provider has agreed to pay extra money to the telcos, and the latter would be a no-guarantees service class for other content.
According to ETNO, this kind of split would let its operators — such as Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica — make more money, some of which may be invested in future growth.
"The revised ITRs should acknowledge the challenges of the new Internet economy and the principles that fair compensation is received for carried traffic and operators' revenues should not be disconnected from the investment needs caused by rapid internet traffic growth," ETNO executive board chair Luigi Gambardella said in a statement.
Although much of the coverage of ETNO's proposals has suggested that they amount to some sort of 'tax' that would affect US-based content providers in particular, there is nothing in the proposals to suggest this is what the association is calling for.
Operators have long been pushing for rules that would make sure they can always strike commercial deals with content providers. However, apart from The Netherlands and Chile, there are no countries that actually prohibit this sort of behaviour — generally, the only obstacle has been the unwillingness of content providers to pay up.
The European Commission is currently gearing up to announce its own rules on net neutrality. However, much of the Commission's focus is on the deliberate blocking by operators of services that compete with their own, such as Skype.
On the kind of net neutrality referred to in ETNO's proposals, digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes has indicated that she has little problem with operators wanting to tier the quality of their services, as long as they are transparent about doing so.