European Commission launches consultation on net neutrality

And so it begins.

The European Commission this morning launched a consultation on key questions regarding the contentious issues of net neutrality and the open Internet.

The consultation covers such issues as whether ISPs should be allowed to adopt traffic management practices, prioritizing one kind of Internet traffic over another. This has become an issue with the onset of broadband and Internet services which require more bandwidth, such as VoIP or online TV. Essentially, the EC wants to find out whether these practices would create any problems (economical, technical or otherwise) and have ‘unfair effects’ for users.

Basically, the EU wants to piece together whether they should get involved or let the industry sort it out. The Commission also wants to know whether the new telecom rules are sufficient to tackle any problems that could arise.

The consultation comes just a week after UK regulator Ofcom published a draft discussion paper on the subject.

European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes (pictured), announced in April 2010 her intention to launch this consultation in order to advance Europe’s net neutrality debate.

The consultation will feed into a Commission report on net neutrality, which should be presented by the end of this year.

Kroes commented as follows:

“I am committed to keeping the internet open and neutral. Consumers should be able to access the content they want. Content providers and operators should have the right incentives to keep innovating.

But traffic management and net neutrality are highly complex issues. I do not assume that one approach or another should prevail. We need input from all sides so we can examine all the issues carefully, in a very objective way, strike the right balance between all the interests involved and work out what new measures, if any, may be needed.”

Until 30 September 2010, all interested parties – meaning service and content providers, consumers, businesses and researchers – are invited to respond to the consultation. The Commission will then analyze the responses to the consultation and the views raised in other forums, and ultimately publish a Communication on net neutrality by the end of 2010.

This document will set out the Commission’s thinking on whether additional initiatives or guidance are required.

Let’s hope a level playing field is maintained throughout Europe.

(Via Kristof Neefs)