Urgent: Please Help Save Net Neutrality in the EU

Once again, we need to save net neutrality. This time, there is a crucial vote in the European Parliament's industry committee (ITRE) next Monday. La Quadrature du Net, which has been following this area more closely than anyone, has a good...


Once again, we need to save net neutrality. This time, there is a crucial vote in the European Parliament’s industry committee (ITRE) next Monday. La Quadrature du Net, which has been following this area more closely than anyone, has a good summary of what is happening:

On 24 February, the “Industry” (ITRE) committee of the European Parliament will take a crucial decision for the future of Net Neutrality in Europe, by adopting its report, on the basis of which the whole Parliament will vote. As things currently stand, Members of the European Parliament in ITRE still have the possibility to ensure a genuine and unconditional Net Neutrality principle, as proposed by others committees, so as to protect freedom of expression and online innovation. But instead, all might be lost because the liberal (ALDE) and socio-democrat (S&D) political groups seem ready to adopt the disastrous proposals made by Pilar Del Castillo Vera, the lead rapporteur in charge of this dossier. Unless citizens act and key MEPs show political leadership, we may be about to lose the Internet as we know it.

Here’s the problem:

in the ITRE committee, the negotiations behind closed doors between political groups on so-called “compromise amendments” have taken an extremely worrying turn, as the principle of Net Neutrality is being turned upside down to please the telcos. Current versions of compromise amendments (commented by La Quadrature du Net [pdf]) would allow telecom operators to:

degrade certain types of traffic (e.g. peer-to-peer) while letting other types of traffic enjoy a normal delivery; make deals with Internet services (e.g. YouTube or Netflix) to grant them prioritised delivery through so-called specialised services.

As you can see, the central problem is still that of “specialised services” that would be given priority over other Internet traffic. Such “specialised services” are a way for telecoms companies to charge premium prices, but that necessarily implies that non-premium services are degraded in comparison (otherwise why would anyone pay more?) That, by definition, kills Net neutrality.

The good news is that we can concentrate on getting one key point across: that specialised services of this kind must not be allowed. Here’s the best way we can do that according to La Quadrature:

European citizens must tell the members of the Industry committee that the only deserving approach is to reject Mrs. Pilar del Castillo Vera’s so-called '‘compromise amendments’' and that they should adopt the same amendments to articles 2(15) and 23.2 as in the LIBE committee. To preserve the Internet’s contribution to innovation and freedom of communication, European law should clearly ban telecom operators from marketing specialised services that are functionally equivalent to online services delivered on the Internet, thereby bypassing Net neutrality.

La Quadrature has also helpfully put together a full list of the ITRE committee; those from the UK are as follows:

Giles Chicester: [email protected]

Vicky Ford: [email protected]

Nick Griffin: [email protected]

Fiona Hall: [email protected]

Roger Helmer: [email protected]

Sajjad Karim: [email protected]

Peter Skinner: [email protected]

Alyn Smith: [email protected]

If you prefer, you can contact your own local MEP using WriteToThem. Here’s what I’m sending to my local MEPs and members of the ITRE committee.

I am writing to you in connection with the ITRE vote on Net neutrality next Monday.

Net neutrality lies at the heart of the Internet, and of its extraordinary success. By treating every communication across it equally, Net neutrality has allowed innovative services to be created without fear that they will be throttled by incumbents with deep pockets. If the Internet is to thrive in Europe – and if innovative start-ups are to flourish here – it is imperative that Net neutrality be preserved. That means no half measures: there is no such thing as 90% Net neutrality. Either the Net is neutral or it isn’t, in which case all its benefits are at risk.

Specifically, I would like to urge ITRE not to allow specialised services to be offered, but instead to encourage general services offering enhanced speeds or latency.

Alongside things such as IPTV, more “serious” uses like telemedicine are frequently invoked to justify permitting specialised services with guaranteed quality of service – for example speed, or latency. But this is really just a clever trick on the part of the telecom companies and their lobbyists, who are the main drivers of this attempt to kill Net neutrality.

After all, if an ISP is able to provide a guaranteed quality of service for such specialised services, running on the general Internet, then there is no reason not to provide that guaranteed quality of service for everything on that connection.

Whenever the guaranteed speeds or latency are required for telemedicine (or IPTV), all the user has to do is close down all other applications. In that case, the entire connection is devoted to the “specialised” service, which is able to make use of the quality of service guarantees. With all the other services shut down, it is as if the specialised service enjoys privileged treatment – it does, but only because there is nothing else running. This allows quality of service to be provided without damaging Net neutrality: all IP packets are treated equally, but sometimes the user chooses to send only one kind of IP packet over the connection.

This shows that it is not necessary to kill Net neutrality in order to provide services that require particular quality of service guarantees. But there is a very real danger that amendments to allow specialised services delivered at enhanced speeds will do just that.

If a startup is in competition with an established market leader, and the latter is offering a “specialised service” with a guaranteed quality of service, while the newcomer is not (because it can’t afford to pay ISPs the requisite fees for doing so), the incumbent will have a huge advantage. That’s because by definition the specialised service will run better than those running on the “ordinary” Internet, which are bound to be perceived as slow or unreliable compared to the one given preferential treatment. It’s simply human nature to prefer the service that runs better, and the specialised service will, thanks to the quality of service guarantees. In this way, innovation will be disadvantaged and discouraged, and deep-pocketed market leaders entrenched.

This also applies across services. If one specialised service is accorded faster delivery compared to another, there will be a natural preference for the one arriving more rapidly, and that may outweigh other considerations. For example, new services that offer novel features might be perceived as extremely slow compared to established services, even if the latter are lacking in additional features. Once more, this allow incumbents to stifle newcomers and thus throttle innovation.

The tragedy is that this danger is entirely avoidable. If ISPs were allowed to offer quality of service guarantees for additional payment, just as they can offer faster services, or greater monthly bandwidth, but not tied to any one service, then end-users could use this connection for both established players and newcomers alike, enjoying a superior technical experience for both. They could then decide on the merits of the features and content of the services which to adopt, rather than being pushed in the direction of established companies able to afford deals with ISPs to provide superior connections compared to those available to startups.

I therefore urge you to reject Mrs. Pilar del Castillo Vera’s so-called “compromise amendments” and to adopt the same amendments to articles 2(15) and 23.2 as in the LIBE committee. Doing so will preserve Net neutrality in Europe, and encourage startups to create new and exciting digital services that will continue the long tradition born of an Internet that is open and equal for all traffic.

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