Europe approaches to net neutrality

Europe approaches to net neutrality

The network neutrality debate first start in the USA and it began in other countries much later than the U.S. European Union is more conscious about net neutrality and legislate network neutrality by viewing the damages which are caused by non -neutral broadband networks. In November 2007, European Commission gives a proposal to make some changes in the European regulatory framework. According to that proposal content prioritization is consider beneficial for the market as long as end users have choice to access the services that they want. [European Commission (13 November 2007). "Impact Assessment on the proposals to amend the European regulatory framework”]

European Parliament was reviewed the European commission's proposal and in summer 2008 the lead committees in the Parliament achieved final draft reports.

Most European countries have the same idea of net neutrality. While they address the net neutrality issue differently, most have stated that firms that governing rules with unbundling are sufficient, rather than specific net neutrality regulations [http://www.wik.org/content/nnc/Cawley.pdf]. Viviane Reding, the European Union Commissioner for Information Society and Media, stated in 2007, “I firmly believe in net neutrality. I firmly believe in the principle of access for all. The Commission does not want to see a two-speed internet where the rich benefit and the poor suffer” [http://adslgr.com/forum/showthread.php?t=137431].

The main focus of European Union countries for electronic communications regulation is on the network access competition. It aims to ensure that consumers have choices of different network providers and are able to choose service provider for their broadband access. If the end user gets lower quality of service or cannot find some contents due to service provider restrict access to those contents then the end user has more options to switch to a service provider who offering better terms.

The United Kingdom

In 20 March 2006, a debate on net neutrality was held in the UK at Westminster, sponsored by AT&T. It was attended by the telecom regulators, Government and Opposition trade secretaries, industry figures and other experts. U.K telecom regulator Ofcom, emphasizes unbundling and the ability of consumers to chose among retail ISPs as an important way of dealing with issues raised by net neutrality. In the U.K. unbundling has played a major role in shaping the DSL market as it was the only EU country as of the third quarter of 2007 in which the incumbent retailed less than half of its own DSL lines.

[Scott J. Wallsten, Stephanie Hausladen, “Net Neutrality, Unbundling, and their Effects on International Investment in Next-Generation Networ ks”, March 2009.]

When BBC introduced its iPlayer service in December 2007 then net neutrality became more concrete in U.K. This iPlayer service allows users to watch BBC shows online. This service generated a big problem for network operator who feared the impact of the iPlayer's bandwidth requirements on their networks. This issue cut to the core of the net neutrality debate: who should pay for the costs imposed on the network by the service or for the infrastructure upgrades necessary to alleviate the congestion.

Some ISPs in UK are already calling for the BBC to bail them out, and the broadcaster is in fact looking at ISP-based caching solutions. Some ISPs want the British government to take step in solving the issue, but Britons don't want any new regulation, but provide help with putting new cables into the ground.

[“iPlayer Brings Net Neutrality Debate toEurope”, found at: http://newteevee.com/2008/02/22/iplayer-brings-net-neutrality-debate-to-europe/]?

Six months after the iPlayer's launch The Guardian reported that the same issues remain critical, with concerns over who pays for bandwidth affecting content providers, regulators, and network operators (Wray, 2008). So far, little has been done to resolve the issue in the U.K. Yet by agreeing to install additional server capacity in various parts of the U.K. Internet infrastructure the BBC appeared to recognize that it should bear at least some of the costs imposed by the iPlayer.

Ofcom analysis and views about UK Net Neutrality

Chief Executive of UK telecom regulator Ofcom (Office of Communications), Ed Richards, shared their ideas about net neutrality that various media firms had raised concerns about the network neutrality issue, which is basically the principle that all net traffic must be treated the same by ISPs.

Network neutrality has been a big issue for historic reasons for many years in the US. It is now beginning to be an issue here in UK [Found at: http://topnews.us/content/212433-uk-net-neutrality-be-examined-ofcom]. Ed Richards said at the Cable congress in Brussels that “traffic management techniques and policies have become widely implemented across Europe”. That trend, coupled with recent EU legislation, means that national regulators must examine the net neutrality issue and decides whether more needed to be done to keep the internet “OPEN” [“Ofcom to investigate UK net neutrality“ Found at: http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/networking/2010/03/03/ofcom-to-investigate-uk-net-neutrality-40067880].

Internet neutrality is a principle that calls on ISPs to avoid using traffic management and other similar techniques to discriminate against particular sites, content and types of internet-based communications. Traffic management using a variety of techniques to shape the traffic and involves mobile and fixed ISPs. These techniques can help the ISPs prevent heavy bandwidth users degrading the web surfing experience of other people at peak times [2].

In the UK, British telecom, TalkTalk and Virgin Media often reduce the speeds offered to heavy users and Point 2 Point traffic in peak periods. These techniques can also be used to block the performance of specific types of application. Some mobile operators have been knows to block VoIP traffic their networks.

According to Richards, the consultation will look into how Ofcom could use its existing powers to prevent traffic management techniques being used anti-competitively. It will also examinehow the regulator could use new powers gained in last year's Telecoms Reform Package and "whether[both old and new powers]are sufficient to maintain the open character of the internet to which the legislators attached so much weight" [2].

Sweden

In Sweden fiber is a significant component of total broadband connections which is unlike other most European countries and the Swedish government is committed to promoting broadband growth. Sweden has regulation enabling and promoting competition between network operators in the telephony access network. In Sweden, a small proportion of population lacks the ability to switch to other broadband operator. From a national point of view, together with the absence of blocking or traffic discrimination, this suggests that lacking net neutrality is not a problem.

PTS Role Regarding Net Neutrality

PTS (Swedish Post and Telecom Agency), the Swedish telecommunications regulator in Sweden and main focus of PTS is promoting competition availability in the access market so that users have several different options when choosing a service provider, and also providing information to the end users about differences between the offerings of service providers. If this is done successfully, then it is possible to reduce the need of net neutrality through regulation. Customers easily assess prices that offered by different network providers and also assess what a service includes and its quality. Upstream and downstream both capacity rates must be stated and to do this as precisely as possible. In Sweden mostly service providers have started capacity rates in intervals.

PTS also state that traffic prioritization is not necessarily bad, although the potential for abuse exists and therefore the adequate competition among the network providers in the market is the most important solution. This is consistent with the PTS “Proposal for Swedish broadband strategy” outlined in February 2007.

The Future Role of PTS

In the future, PTS decided to don't take any action in the sector which interfere in the operations of service providers unless absolutely necessary. PTS should not impose minimum levels of service quality and it should be dealt by the market. In situations where users facing problem due to the absence of minimum levels of service quality then PTS will support market driven efforts to resolve this area on its own, by means of voluntary agreements.

In case where other options are shown to be insufficient for solving the problem then binding requirements on service quality may only be considered as a last resort.

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