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

Europe's digital chief Neelie Kroes supports the right of ISPs to choose how they manage internet traffic that flows over their networks.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

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.

Editorial standards