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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

EC law on net neutrality: not the end but the end of the beginning?

The deal is done!

9. Towards a more open and more "neutral" net for the consumer: The new telecoms rules will ensure that European consumers have an ever greater choice of competing broadband service providers available to them. Internet service providers have powerful tools at their disposal that allow them to differentiate between the various data transmissions on the internet, such as voice or 'peer-to-peer' communication. Even though traffic management can allow premium high-quality services (such as IPTV) to develop and can help ensure secure communications, the same techniques may also be used to degrade the quality of other services to unacceptably low levels. That is why, under the new EU rules, national telecoms authorities will have the powers to set minimum quality levels for network transmission services so as to promote "net neutrality" and "net freedoms" for European citizens.

In addition, thanks to the new transparency requirements, consumers will be informed – even before signing a contract – about the nature of the service to which they are subscribing, including traffic management techniques and their impact on service quality, as well as any other limitations (such as bandwidth caps or available connection speed).

10. Recognition of the right to internet access: The new telecoms rules recognise explicitly that internet access is part of fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression and the freedom to access information. The rules therefore provide that any measures taken regarding access to or use of services and applications through electronic communications networks must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons, including in relation to privacy, freedom of expression and access to information and education, as well as due process. The new rules also clarify that the final word on this important matter of internet access must be with an independent and impartial tribunal established by law and acting in accordance with Article 6 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

I wonder how many of the 27 will police this rigorously? The devil remains in the detail!

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