Europe's digital agenda chief has criticised the Netherlands for legislating to protect net neutrality, saying it is too early for lawmakers to take sides on the issue.
Europe's digital agenda chief Neelie Kroes has criticised the Netherlands for passing legislation on net neutrality, saying it it too early to take sides.Photo credit: Neelie Kroes
In a speech on Monday, Neelie Kroes said Dutch moves to enshrine
net neutrality in law could stop ISPs there from offering customers a
limited version of internet access at a lower price than that charged
for the "full" internet.
In June, Dutch
MPs approved laws that force ISPs to provide a minimum quality of
service for customers' connections, while forbidding the ISPs from
blocking or degrading any type of traffic except where it is necessary
to keep the network running safely. These rules comply with the
so-called net-neutrality principle, in that they make sure that ISPs
allow the delivery of all internet services on equal terms.
On Monday, digital agenda commissioner Kroes said it was important
for lawmakers to wait and see how ISPs approach transparency, blocking
and throttling. She said that, if regulators do need to act, this
needs to happen in "a co-ordinated way across Europe".
"I regret very much that the Netherlands seems to be moving
unilaterally on this issue. We must act on the basis of facts, not
passion; acting quickly and without reflection can be
counterproductive," Kroes, herself a Dutch politician, said at a
Brussels summit with network operators.
According to Kroes, "requiring operators to provide only 'full
internet' could kill innovative new offers".
"Even worse, it could mean higher prices for those consumers with
more limited needs who were ready to accept a cheaper, limited
package," she added.
Kroes's antipathy to the Dutch net-neutrality laws stands in
contrast with what
she herself said in January 2010, when she was about to become the
EU's digital agenda commissioner.
"[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," Kroes told a confirmation hearing at the
We must act on the basis of facts, not passion; acting quickly and without reflection can be counterproductive.– Neelie Kroes
However, since then Kroes has adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Shortly after taking office, she pointed out that the internet was not
inherently neutral, and said regulatory decisions would need to be
taken as to the future direction of internet access.
In April, the Commission asked
the regulator group Berec to carry out a fact-finding exercise, in which it would log cases of ISPs degrading or blocking services, prioritising certain
types of traffic for commercial reasons, or making it difficult for
customers to switch operator.
A key example that Kroes cited at the time was that of VoIP. She
said she had heard of a telco degrading internet telephony services
— a rival to its own revenue stream — to the point of
On Monday, Kroes maintained that it was important to retain a
"robust best-efforts internet", but it was also "very important that
we wait for the facts and figures [from Berec's study] before
Net neutrality has not made it onto the statute books of many
countries. Chile and the Netherlands have adopted the most robust
rules so far. The US's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) codified
a set of net-neutrality rules last December, although the heaviest
restrictions only apply to fixed, rather than mobile, network
providers. Verizon is in the process of trying
to overturn the FCC's rules through the courts.
Access to broadband networks
The net-neutrality issue was not the main focus of Kroes's speech
on Monday, which marked the launch of a consultation on the pricing of
access to broadband networks.
Kroes noted that alternative providers think incumbents charge too
much for access to copper networks that have already been paid for,
while the incumbent operators themselves say excessively low copper
access prices would make it difficult to charge a sufficiently high
amount for fibre alternatives.
"I think that there is some truth on both sides," Kroes said. "And
I also have the impression that, as it stands, it would indeed be
difficult to build new fibre networks competing with cheap parallel
The Commission is proposing that access prices for largely
depreciated copper networks should be lowered only gradually, but that
incumbents should also commit to building fibre networks "in a
relevant time frame", while promoting a switch-off of the copper
"Indeed, I have seen evidence that the gradual switch-off of copper
could reduce the cost to such a degree that new fibre investments
break even in under 10 years, and thus align the interests of
investors and long-term financing providers," Kroes said.
The digital agenda commissioner also told the network operators
that the Commission would shortly earmark €6.4bn (£5.5bn) for broadband
infrastructure, "largely in the form of equity, debt or
She said the involvement of the Commission and the European
Investment Bank (EIB) would "improve the projects' credit rating by
absorbing part of the risk", and potentially generate up to €100bn in
Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews
delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's