Reporters Without Borders

Disappointing report and belated investigation on net neutrality

Disappointing report and belated investigation on net neutrality

Published on Wednesday 27 April 2011.
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Reporters Without Borders notes the European Commission’s decision to investigate the impact on net neutrality of the practices of Internet Service Providers, especially those offering mobile phone access, but thinks that the decision has been taken too late and that the basis on which the investigation is being initiated is wrong.

The press freedom organization calls on the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), which is in charge of the investigation, to conduct it in an impartial manner and to be fully transparent in the way the results are published.

Reporters Without Borders nonetheless doubts that it will be objective after Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda, made a show of consideration to ISPs in her speech on 19 April when she said: “It is important to keep video calls running smoothly even if that means an email is delayed by a few seconds.”

Reporters Without Borders is also disappointed by the report on net neutrality that Kroes issued on behalf of the commission on 19 April. It proposes no concrete action to guarantee net neutrality and even refuses to define it. So far, no measures are envisaged as regards telecom operators that violate net neutrality.

“On the basis of the evidence and the implementation of the telecom framework provisions,” the report says, “the commission will decide, as a matter of priority, on the issue of additional guidance on net neutrality.”

The investigation’s results are expected at the end of 2011. The organization fears that these will just be used as a pretext for delaying the adoption of a position in support of net neutrality at the European level.

“The reaffirmation of an ethical position does not depend on the presence of evidence of bad practices,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Must we deduce from Neelie Kroes’ position that, in the absence of evidence, no decision will be taken? The European Commission’s vagueness on the subject is inacceptable.”

Referring to the possibility of changing from one mobile phone operator to another, Kroes also says in her report: “In a competitive environment, this acts as a stimulus to operators to adapt their pricing and abstain from restrictions on applications that prove popular with users.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Consumers are often limited in their choice of operator.

ISPs are aware of this and take advantage of it. As the NGO La Quadrature du Net puts it: “Mobile phone operators agree on engaging in the very same discrimination in their so-called Mobile Internet offers.”

Two French parliamentarians – Laure de la Raudière of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement and Corinne Erhel of the opposition Socialist Party – issued a report on 13 April that clearly spells out the principle of net neutrality and the ways to guarantee it. Widely hailed by Internet activists, the report proposes strict legislation for net neutrality violations.

Reporters Without Borders urges the European Commission to immediately adopt the measures that are needed to guarantee net neutrality in the European Union, without awaiting the ill-conceived investigation’s finding. It also urges the French government to quickly take a position on the subject, and to adopt effective measures in line with the excellent work of these two parliamentarians.

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