What Exactly Does The EU Plan To Do On Net Neutrality?

from the confused?-you-will-be dept

There are few areas in tech policy where the waters are so muddied as those swirling around net neutrality. That's as true for the EU as it is for the US. The latest statement by the person responsible for this area in the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, does little to clarify things.

First, she addresses the issue of blocking and throttling:

Huge innovation can be found online: we must safeguard it for everyone. Currently too many Europeans find that services are blocked and throttled by their internet provider. I believe every European should have access to the full and open internet, absolutely guaranteed, without such discrimination. And so I am coming forward with new rules to bring such practices to an end once and for all.
That's clear enough. But Kroes goes on:
I agree that the Internet is an important platform for freedom of speech; and that is why I intend to guarantee access without restriction -- the first ever time such a guarantee exists across Europe. But permitting premium services does not in any way restrict that freedom. For almost any kind of product you care to name -- from postal services to the petrol in your car -- having premium products hardly diminishes freedom for users: if anything it offers them more choices. If you decide not to pay that extra premium, of course, you still deserve a good product: and under my proposals, the "best-efforts" Internet will get better.
It's not at all obvious how "premium products" will magically boost the "best-efforts" Internet. On the contrary: if companies are allowed to pay for their IP packets to be given priority over "best-efforts" services, this will result in the latter be pushed into the Internet's slow lane. Net neutrality will be dead, and innovation threatened, because deep-pocketed incumbents will be able to promote their services at the expense of underfunded startups, or non-profit projects. Moreover, telecoms companies will have a perverse incentive to make that slow lane as bad as possible, in order to "encourage" people to pay for the "premium products" that offer a decent performance.

Kroes discusses the general issue of regulation:

if you aim to protect an open network, overregulation is exactly the wrong way to go. The fact is, many innovative new services depend on fast connections over IP networks. If you want to invest in (say) new videoconferencing equipment, an IP TV, or a new cloud computing contract, you will also want to know your connection will support it. If EU laws banned such quality guarantees, we would risk effectively outlawing many of those new services too.
Those in favor of net neutrality do not argue for "over-regulation"; instead, they want one very minimal rule: that all IP packets are treated equally for a given connection. If services need fast connections, then just upgrade the speed so that all applications benefit. Maybe that is what she means -- it's really not clear from her post -- but fast connections are not normally described as "premium products", and they are already available as part of most ISPs' standard offerings. So what exactly is the EU proposing to do here?

And for those who are worried about any kind of regulation, here's what someone who knows what he's talking about here -- Tim Berners-Lee -- said on the subject back in 2006, when net neutrality was under threat in the US:

Yes, regulation to keep the Internet open is regulation. And mostly, the Internet thrives on lack of regulation. But some basic values have to be preserved. For example, the market system depends on the rule that you can't photocopy money. Democracy depends on freedom of speech. Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it.
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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    James Burkhardt (profile), Jul 30th, 2013 @ 11:59pm

    An excellent topical display of the principles of net neutrality can be seen in the current Netflix/Youtube vs. ISPs fight.

    In a nutshell (im shrinking the technical details of the debate down), whenever a network link on the internet gets overloaded, the response is to increase capacity. Historically, the person who is moving more data pays for the improvement. However, we are now in a position where Netflix and Google are sending more data to consumers then Netflix and Google will ever receive. And its not entirely their fault. ISPs (such as Verison and Time Warner Cable) provide all high speed access as Asynchronous, in this case meaning you can download faster then you can upload. The speed difference is 4-5x faster download speeds. So Even if Netflix's Internet provider had services the TWC customer wants, Netflix's IP will never have parity with TWC.

    Now Netflix and Google provide a program to ISPs that put the equivalent of a server with the most commonly requested data in the core nodes for an ISP, reducing network load and significantly improving performance, but the big legacy Cable companies have refused, instead insisting that Netflix and Google pay the ISPs to deliver the content that the ISP's customers are paying for the ISP to deliver.

    Without stronger net neutrality rules, This WILL continue. And it will impact all online services.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 12:07am

    In other word, "We don't want to upgrade our networks, so instead we're going to charge you more money, and offer you over-congested services. Unless you pay a Premium fee, like you do for Premium Petrol at the pump."

    I remember lobbyists in America saying the same thing a few years ago over the Comcast Bittorrent blocking scandal.

    The lobbyist said that Doctor's needed higher internet priority, because they needed to perform remote surgeries and that the patient might die due to network lag.

    I'm serious, this was their argument to kill net neutrality in America a few years ago.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 12:25am

    Look at this bullshit comment I found on ITworld


    Dennis Barr

    Perhaps it's time to realize that the "free" internet model - as in free of charge - is a disaster waiting to happen.

    I suspect that this is not going to happen, though. We've become too accustomed to getting something - generally good, but potentially very, very bad - for nothing. Who will persuade us to give that up? What kind of event will it take to abandon something that's so immediately gratifying? ... the sound of crickets ...
    http://www.itworld.com/security/366872/black-hat-ad-networks-lay-path-million-strong-browser-bo tnet

    This mother fucker has some serious issues.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 12:56am

    compare it to the phone carriers; because we had more regulation in the EU, we now have much more choice, and much less coupled-sales (you can choose your phone separately from your carrier should you wish to) than the US does; and in that sense we now have a much freeer market.

     

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  5.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 31st, 2013 @ 1:11am

    Re:

    "the "free" internet model - as in free of charge"

    Erm, I pay for my internet connection as do the vast majority of other people.

    That's a pretty dumb comment that doesn't even have a basis in truth. I suspect he's (badly) arguing that websites should not be free to access, but they're quite happy to lock themselves behind paywalls if they wish. Just don't come whining when people find alternative sources that don't charge a direct toll.

     

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  6.  
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    James Burkhardt (profile), Jul 31st, 2013 @ 1:28am

    Re:

    Id say the worse part is the assumption that the internet is only for commercial application. That Only if you are getting paid will you produce something one the web. That base assumption is wrong, and draws entirely the wrong conclusions from the article.

     

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  7.  
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    alexanderpas, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 3:20am

    Premium Gasoline: Higher Octane Numer.

    Premium Internet: Higher Bandwith.

    No matter which gasoline you pump, you can still access the same roads.

    No matter which Internet you get, you can still access the same information.

    Basic Internet: 10 Mb/s

    Premium Internet: 100 Mb/s

     

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  8.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 31st, 2013 @ 3:38am

    Re:

    Not necessarily a great analogy, as there's such things as toll roads, etc. But that's all that's really being asked for - if I'm paying for bandwidth, my packets should be treated the same regardless of whether I'm communication with a tiny blog nobody's ever heard of, listening to my local radio station or streaming a Netflix movie. Anything else damages the basis of the internet while encouraging corruption and anti-competitive behaviour.

     

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  9.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 31st, 2013 @ 4:57am

    When there are artificial monopolies you need regulations to avoid such practices. If there was real competition in the broadband space the telcos wouldn't dare to do anything different than remaining neutral.

     

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  10.  
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    Ryan Heath, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 5:54am

    Investment is what boosts the best efforts internet

    To reply to Glyn's point:
    "It's not at all obvious how "premium products" will magically boost the "best-efforts" Internet."

    There is no magic boost. It's a decidely non magic boost called private investment in new and faster networks. Investments that can't happen if companies don't have any way to gain revenue.
    Sector revenues are declining and demand for data is growing, this is creating an investment gap that is already damaging the ability of Europeans to access mobile broadband and we'll see the problem spread to fixed too if we don't change the situation.
    There are no free lunches, someone has to pay for this ... And extreme interpretations of net neutrality, which seek to spread mistruths about Kroes' intentions to protect the open internet and net neturality do not help us improve the best-efforts internet.
    The policy we have is clear and we are proud of it.
    We welcome input that can help us do it better, but we don't welcome the input of those (not saying this includes Glyn!) just trying to trash our efforts to deal with a complex issue.

     

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  11.  
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    TaCktiX (profile), Jul 31st, 2013 @ 8:15am

    Re: Investment is what boosts the best efforts internet

    I find it hard to believe that money spent on internet infrastructure and investment doesn't have sufficient ROI. Everyone uses the internet these days, especially in developed areas like the EU. If people are unable to get an ROI, that's a business model problem they need to fix, not something that general users of the internet should be obligated into fixing fo them.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    Here's the crux. CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) don't decide where their customers are coming from, so they have no control over the bandwidth saturated links to the ISPs. The best effort that they can do is offer peering/caching for ISPs. This is how it's already setup. The problem is that services like Netflix, YouTube may actually compete with the ISPs services such as Cable TV from both TWC, Verizon, etc. So it's in the ISPs best interest to let these services suffer. (Net Neutrality violation, but about impossible to prove.) In an ideal world, every customer would have freedom of choice to switch to another ISP and break this practice. The problem is in the US, our oligarchy arrangement of ISPs threatens that basic principle of commerce.

    My solution would be to have intervention at the physical links to those end-users. Have a government mandated fiber build-out, much like the telephone system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Open these fiber links as leased lines that can be used by any provider, and let the market decide who has better service.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 11:33am

    Just to clarify the download 'speed' issue. Net Neutrality isn't about paying for faster or slower download speeds. Net Neutrality deals in packet prioritization.

    Packet Prioritization (also called Quality of Service) gives certain network traffic a higher priority on congested networks, and slows some internet traffic down, while allowing higher prioritized traffic to flow at normal speed.

    If congestion is an issue, then the network needs to be upgraded. Packet Prioritization is a 'temporary' congestion fix, not a permanent fix.

    I can't believe someone made the statement "Someone has to pay a premium to fund network upgrades". This is simply false.

    All business and residential customers have been paying their bills month after month. If ISP's can't upgrade their networks, then either someone is skimming too much profits off the top, or the ISP isn't properly managing their finances and deserves to go out of business, so a more financially competent company can take over and place it.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2013 @ 4:03pm

    Re:

    I can't believe someone made the statement "Someone has to pay a premium to fund network upgrades". This is simply false.

    There are other options out there, you can pay for a dark fiber run to the nearest IX. You can pay Level 3, Cogent, Hurricane Electric, etc for port, bandwidth and a cross connect. I have never heard of a Tier 1 ISP ever doing any sort of shaping, unless of course it's a requested service like MPLS. If you really are against all QoS and oversubscribing, then your only option is to become your own provider. Traffic shaping is a tool and a very necessary one at that, even imho on your personal home network.

    When QoS fails is when they differentiate services, or purposely use peering disputes to disrupt internet traffic to specific parties.

    After you come back with a few price quotes, than you can tell me about the price you are paying for that QoS, oversubscribed network.

     

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