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Commissioner will name and shame telcos who break Neutrality rules

Brussels seems to be taking a softly, softly approach to Network Neutrality – it seems to be a case of not putting its foot in it, by choosing to make

By PETER WHITE

Published: 21 April, 2011

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Brussels seems to be taking a softly, softly approach to Network Neutrality – it seems to be a case of not putting its foot in it, by choosing to make pronouncements too early. But Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda in a press conference this week promised to name and shame any ISP not sticking to the guidelines laid out in recently published European Telecoms rules.

Kroes said in a major and widely reported speech in November that she would not be seeking new Network Neutrality legislation at the Net Neutrality Summit, adding that she thought in general ISPs have upheld the principle of open access and said that now was not the time to create new legislation to guard the internet. Instead she pointed at the new European Union 2009 Telecoms Framework which she said gives regulators sufficient tools to protect the openness of the Internet.

This week the headlines from her speech gave all sorts of messages – There will be no legislation, there will be legislation, traffic shaping was okay, it was not okay – when in actual fact she was pretty clear, and each publication perhaps came at it from their own readership’s point of view.

The overall thrust was that Network Neutrality is a given, and that we have the rules in place to deal with it and if operators are not sticking to the spirit of the legislation she will name and shame them – her timeframe was the end of 2011.

She said that she needed to verify what had been reported to regulators across Europe and then present findings and added, “I will be looking particularly closely for any instances of unannounced blocking or throttling of certain types of traffic, and any misleading advertising of broadband speeds. If I am not satisfied that consumers can counteract such practices by switching providers, I will not hesitate to introduce more stringent measures. That could be in the form of more prescriptive guidance, or even legislation if it is needed.”

So more legislation is on the cards if she finds practices out there she doesn’t like and finds she does not already have the power to stop it. But she prefers to see how things go for one more year.

The guidelines will mean lots of changes to existing practice – the biggest one is that when an ISP is throttling back a certain type of traffic, it must publish this rule to its clients and it should never do it against a particular competitors traffic. So traffic shaping is fine, but there is to be no blocking of say Skype traffic, just because it competes with an operator’s service.

The other big issue is what you say in advertisements. There is to be no saying that a broadband speed is 28 Mbps, when what you mean is that 28 Mbps is shared out and real world experience could be as low as 1.1 Mbps, as cellular operators currently do. So no statements saying “up to 20 Mbps” in adverts, when in actual fact only 20% of the customer base will experience that and they have to live 200 feet from the exchange to get it. So Cellcos and ISPs alike will have to find a realistic way of describing what broadband speeds they really deliver.

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