EU confirms its commitment to qualified net neutrality

“Meanwhile”, she said, “I have been clear that, as concerns net neutrality, a commitment to an open internet should not kill off the opportunity for innovative business models and service offers.” At first glance this statement contradicts itself: a neutral internet could be considered incompatible with innovative business models.

Frank Coggrave, general manager at Guidance Software, doesn’t see a problem provided that government doesn’t get too involved. “Innovation and new services won’t threaten neutrality, regulation will,” he says. “Innovative business offerings and services should expand the range of options and that shouldn’t subvert net neutrality. Net neutrality is subverted by ill thought out regulation and unwarranted government interference, not by creating opportunity.”

But Dr Brian Bandey, an international internet law expert and Student and Doctor of Law at Oxford university, suggests that the apparent contradiction comes from a difference in international perspective. ‘Net neutrality’ is an American term born within the American legal system. This is based on a constitution that defines and protects certain rights; and the idea of net neutrality has its basis in those constitutional freedoms. There is no such constitution in Europe, where rights tend to be restricted by law rather than confirmed by law. “And we have never had net neutrality anyway. There have always been restrictions on internet content,” explained Dr Bandey, referring to illegal content such as child pornography, “and there always will be. In that sense, the pure form of net neutrality has never and can never exist.”

He suspects that the EU considers ‘net neutrality’ to be a political issue that must be seen to be supported. The problem comes with the European legal mindset: the only way that net neutrality can be confirmed in Europe is by restricting the rights of the ISPs to operate their business as they wish. This is something that Neelie Kroes will wish to avoid.

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