Net Neutrality: Will Kroes Fool Citizens (And Give In to Telcos)?

Paris, 12 July 2013 — A leaked draft legislative text shows that the European Commission might be about to kill the open and free Internet. Under the guise of protecting Net neutrality, the Commission wants to give telecom operators a free hand to develop business models that would irremediably undermine freedom of communication on the Internet. For years now, commissioner Neelie Kroes has been bafflingly sympathetic to big telecom companies on the fundamental issue of Net neutrality, but with this draft text she would be going much too far in betraying citizens.

Yesterday, Brussels-based group EDRi leaked the EU Commission's "draft regulation on a telecom single market". As recently announced by commissioner Neelie Kroes, the draft -due to be officially presented in September- contains a provision allegedly protecting Net neutrality (article 20). But while seemingly protecting this fundamental principle, the Commission wants to allow telecom operators to discriminate our Internet communications and thereby kill the free and open Internet.Neelie Kroes

After laying down the Net neutrality principle1, the draft regulation makes it meaningless by saying that, "in the pursuit of the foregoing freedom (sic)", telecom operators should be free to impose data caps on users (which is a nonsense from an economic point of view)2 and to enter in business agreements providing faster data flows to big online services (i.a. Google or Facebook)3. This latter point is absolutely contrary to the definition of Net neutrality, according to which all data flows must be equally treated by network operators, regardless of their source, destination or application. It would severely hamper innovation online as well as the inclusiveness of the global communication platform we call the Internet. The leaked text contains several other exceptions to the principle4 which would in practice make it toothless.

Furthermore, Neelie Kroes wants to prevent national authorities from protecting online freedom of expression and innovation by introducing real protections for Net neutrality5, in the spirit of what the Netherlands and Slovenia have both already done in 2012. She would thereby be giving telcos a EU-wide shield to protect themselves from the kind of regulation they have been lobbying against these past years.

“Now we know what Neelie Kroes meant when she said her proposal would not be 'everything you dreamed of'; she meant it would infuriate citizens and please the telecom lobby. Kroes seems to be preparing to betray all the citizens who, for the past four years, have been patiently demanding a EU Net neutrality legislation that would sanctuarize the key architectural features of the Internet. The Commission must urgently revise its proposal; and citizens and civil society organizations must be ready for one of the most important battles to protect an open Internet, free from harmful discriminatory practices favoring big corporations at the expense of all others.”, said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. "The Commission provides a vague, brief but seemingly accurate description of Net neutrality: "End-users shall be free to access and distribute information and content, run applications and use services of their choice."
  • 2. "End-users shall be free to agree on data volumes, speeds and general quality characteristics with providers of electronic communications to the public and, in accordance with any such agreements relative to data volumes, to avail of any offers by providers of content, applications and services, including offers with defined quality of service"
  • 3. "To the same end, providers of content, applications and services and providers of electronic communications to the public shall be free to agree with each other on the treatment of the related data volumes or on the transmission of traffic with a defined quality of service."
  • 4. such as the vague notion of "preserving the integrity" of the network
  • 5. "The exercise of these freedoms shall not be restricted by national competent authorities, or, as regards the freedom laid down for end-users, by providers of electronic communications to the public, save in accordance with the provisions of this Regulation, the Directives and other provisions of Union law."