Neelie Kroes Promises champagne connection - for the wealthy

Kroes has long claimed to be a supporter of net neutrality (an internet where ISPs are not allowed to throttle users’ connection because of what they are doing). However, her definition of net neutrality has seemed at odds with the generally accepted definition – and indeed that definition provided by the European Data Protection Supervisor, Peter Hustinx. He has said, “Net neutrality refers to an ongoing debate on whether Internet service providers (‘ISPs’) should be allowed to limit, filter, or block Internet access or otherwise affect its performance.”

Kroes has now announced her intention to push for a European internet where ISPs can do exactly that; that is, there will be no net neutrality in Europe. Instead, she believes that ISPs should be allowed to offer a variety of different services at different prices. “We don't want to create obstacles to entrepreneurs who want to provide tailored connected services or service bundles, whether it's for social networking, music, smart grids, eHealth or whatever,” she says.

Kroes is switching the argument from ‘net neutrality’ to ‘an open internet’. “I am in favour of an open Internet and maximum choice. That must be protected.” Her argument, based on the results of a survey she requested from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), is that ISPs are already offering a wide variety of services, are already capping and throttling connections, and are already restricting use of P2P and VoIP. 

She does not intend to prevent or curtail this (“I don’t like to intervene in competitive markets”), but instead to ensure that consumers have a better understanding of what they get. “I will prepare recommendations to generate more real choices and end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe.”

Consumers, she says, “need to know if they are getting Champagne or lesser sparkling wine. If it is not full Internet, it shouldn't be marketed as such.” But, she adds, “I do not propose to force each and every operator to provide full Internet: it is for consumers to vote with their feet.”

Neelie Kroes’ version of net neutrality, and the one she will propose for Europe, merely means that ISPs must make it very clear to consumers exactly what they are paying for and what they are receiving. But this announcement makes no mention of one of the more contentious aspects of a graduated internet service. How do the service providers know what their users are doing on the internet in order to deliver no more than what has been contracted? This can only be achieved by monitoring and inspecting their users’ traffic. Peter Hustinx again: “ISPs’ increasing reliance on monitoring and inspection techniques impinges upon the neutrality of the Internet and the confidentiality of communications. This raises serious issues relating to the protection of users’ privacy and personal data.”

It was these deep packet inspection (DPI) practices and related privacy issues that ultimately led to the introduction of a net neutrality law in The Netherlands; one that specifically outlaws DPI.


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