The European Union is considering rules in response allegations that ISPs are deliberately blocking certain services. But any action will effectively be net-neutrality lite: officials say they won’t block discrimination based on speed.
According to the EU, the strictest definition of net neutrality — that all legal traffic is treated equally — isn’t suitable for practical use. The EU’s leading official on digital issues, Neelie Kroes (pictured) gave the example of an ISP giving priority to a Voice Over Internet Protocol service instead of an e-mail (the theory being a few seconds delay to the former is far more harmful) as an acceptable form of traffic management.
Instead it appears the EU is mainly concerned with net neutrality violations that involve a specific target. For example, it noted the case of an unnamed British ISP that completely blocked access to Skype during the afternoon and evening. That type of activity may be barred under future rules, with a particular emphasis on those who target direct competitors. There’s also going to be further investigation into set-ups where mobile internet providers charge an additional fee for accessing VOIP services.
The main immediate action will be new rules taking effect on May 25 by which providers must make it clear to consumers exactly how they’ll be affected by throttling, traffic management or data use caps. It look as if officials hope this information will be enough to let competition do its work, with providers that impose excessive restrictions being driven out of business as consumers move elsewhere.
How those rules work in practice could be questionable: for example, will ISPs be allowed to reserve the right to change traffic management policies without affected customers being allowed to cancel a minimum-term contract?