The European Commission has launched a public consultation seeking answers to questions on transparency, switching and certain aspects of internet traffic management, with a view to its commitment to preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet.

According to the Commission, these questions have emerged as key issues in the “net neutrality” debate that has taken place in Europe over the past years, including the recent findings of the Body of European Regulators of European Communications (BEREC).

In May this year BEREC published the results of its traffic management investigation undertaken upon the Commission’s request. The organisation also looked into quality of service, transparency, competition issues and IP interconnection in the context of net neutrality.

BEREC further issued a report on best practices to facilitate consumer switching, where it concluded that for competition to be able to deliver effective outcomes for consumers it was essential to ensure transparency for consumers and called for a minimisation of unnecessary switching costs and barriers.

Not so open Internet

The BEREC results showed that the most frequently reported restrictions when it comes to Internet access are the blocking and/or throttling of peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic, on both fixed and mobile networks, and the blocking of VoIP (Internet telephony) traffic on mobile networks.

Over 400 operators participated in the investigation which showed that at least 20% of all Internet users, and potentially up to half of EU mobile broadband users, have contracts that allow their Internet service provider (ISP) to restrict services like VoIP or P2P.

According to the BEREC report among those fixed and mobile operators with contractual restrictions on P2P 96% and 88%, respectively, enforce them technically. Contractual restrictions on VoIP are technically enforced by more than half (56%) of the mobile operators with such restrictions in their contracts.

Open consultation

To get a more rounded view of the situation, the EU Commission is looking for input from all interested public and private parties, including fixed and mobile internet service providers, Internet content and application providers (including comparison websites), equipment manufacturers, transit providers, investors, public authorities, consumers and their associations.

Neelie Kroes said: “Today there is a lack of effective consumer choice when it comes to internet offers. I will use this consultation to help prepare recommendations that will generate more real choices and end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe. Input from this consultation will help turn BEREC’s findings into practical recommendations.”

In particular the Commission wants to know about internet traffic management, including congestion management, managed services and privacy issues; transparency, in particular regarding the actual internet performance (speed and quality) and restrictions of internet access products; the possibility for consumers to switch operators and internet interconnection issues between network operators.

Working to keep the Internet open for everyone is tricky if providers are up to tricks that consumers and businesses cannot control. There is hope that Kroes will help to give the debate a push and sort out the issues we can all do without.

If you’re a Cyber-utopian, no doubt you will hope that the Internet of the future will be the relatively open playground we get to enjoy today, but that can’t happen unless people speak up and get into the debate.

If you want to join in, the details can all be found on the European Commission site.  Responses to the public consultation should be sent before 15 October 2012.

Image Credit: Waldopix