EU commissioner Neelie Kroes has said forthcoming net neutrality legislation will ensure telecoms operator cannot block or throttle competing services while offering a predictable regulatory framework that encourages network investments.
In a speech delivered to the European Parliament in Brussels, Kroes said “failure to take coordinated action on net neutrality would shatter the fragile construction” of a single European telecoms market – something the commissioner believes is necessary if the European industry is to thrive years ahead.
Net neutrality has become an increasingly prominent issue in the European telecoms sector with the growth of internet usage on mobile devices such as smartphones.
Operators have complained that internet companies like Skype (Luxembourg) and Google (Mountain View, CA, USA) make use of their networks without contributing towards the cost of maintaining them.
The web community, meanwhile, insists that consumers pay fees to operators to enjoy internet services, and has lashed out at operators’ attempts to block or downgrade those services in the past.
Complicating the issue is the fact that many operators now provide services that rival those of so-called ‘over-the-top’ players.
Earlier this year, plans by German incumbent Deutsche Telekom (Bonn, Germany) to impose caps on fixed-line internet usage but exclude its own IPTV service from the restrictions provoked outrage among net-neutrality proponents and some German politicians.
Kroes, however, has taken a more conciliatory tone than other European regulatory figures, offering hope to the region’s operators that legislation will not be entirely negative.
“Internet service providers need to invest in network capacity to meet rising demand: and the right predictable regulatory framework will help them do so,” she said.
In particular, Kroes appeared to indicate that operators would be allowed to charge extra for services that are faster and of higher quality than available on the ‘best-efforts’ internet.
“If you’ve just bought a videoconferencing system, you’ll probably also want an internet service that guarantees the right quality, end-to-end,” she said. “If someone wants to pay extra for that, no EU rules should stand in their way.”
Even so, Kroes said she wanted to clamp down on commercial tactics that disadvantage consumers, such as the blocking of services that compete with operators’ traditional offers.
“It’s clear to me that many Europeans expect protection against such commercial tactics,” she said. “And that is exactly the EU safeguard we will be providing.”