Europe to get net neutrality laws

The EU’s digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes is set to back recommendations to the EU on preserving net neutrality.

The recommendations come in a report penned by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) which call for plans to make sure ISPs do not unfairly restrict customers from accessing the service or application or their choice.

Kroes said in a statement that BEREC had today provided the data she wanted.

She said that for most Europeans, their internet access works well most of the time. But these findings show the need for more regulatory certainty and that there are enough problems to warrant strong and targeted action to safeguard people.

BEREC’s findings highlight a problem of effective consumer choice and Kroes wants to generate more real choices and end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe.

It is likely that the recommendations will be before the European Commission before the end of 2012.

Kroes has told EU member states to hold off from introducing their own individual net neutrality laws, saying that legislating on an ad-hoc country-by-country basis would “slow down the creation of a Single Digital Market”.

She wanted them to wait for the report, which was commissioned over a year ago.

The report said that between 20 percent and 50 percent of people in the EU are tied into broadband or mobile broadband contracts that allow the operators to limit access to services like VoIP or file-sharing.

For example, in the UK, most of the major broadband providers, such as Virgin Media and BT, use throttling on some of their packages in order to manage traffic volumes.

More than 20 percent of fixed-service broadband operators have restrictions to their services, such as for peer-to-peer use, at peak times.

Kroes told ZDNet  that mobile and fixed providers also offer plans that allow unrestricted access and customers have the choice of avoiding traffic management, this depends on whether providers explain the options clearly.

She wants more detailed explanations of the “real-life” services that customers sign up for before they are locked into an agreement.

ISPs should provide detailed estimates of average speed at peak times, as well as out of hours, and should make it clear exactly which services people can use and at what times they are limited.

Punters need to know if they are getting Champagne or lesser sparkling wine, she said. If it is not full internet, it shouldn’t be marketed as such; perhaps it shouldn’t be marketed as “internet” at all.

But what might be alarming to many is that Kroes will not force each operator to provide “full internet” which is what net neutrality is all about.