16 January 2014

Net Neutrality: the very recent development in the U.S.


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Image: Net Neutrality News Tag Cloud by Sean Weigold Ferguson on Flickr

Two days ago the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia delivered its long-awaited decision in which it found that, in an attempt to regulate the Internet service providers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had overstepped its authority.

The New York Times has published a brilliant, concise, easily accessible and intelligible article on the matter which I strongly advise you to read, in order to grasp what was on stake in the case and also what its implications might be.

24 June 2011

Net Neutrality: On The Legislation Path In The Netherlands


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Image by Alias 0591 on Flickr

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Those interested in telecommunications regulation and, particularly, in questions related to net neutrality have already heard it – the Netherlands has become the first country in Europe to introduce the concept of network neutrality into its national law.

Has it really?

Well, last week Kees Verhoeven from Democrats 66 (D66), Martijn van Dam from the Labour Party (PvdA), Sharon Gesthuizen from the Socialist party (SP) and Bruno Braakhuis from the GreenLeft (GroenLinks)

Lodged A Bill

to enshrine net neutrality with the House of Representatives of the Netherlands (the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament). Here is a link to the original document (in Dutch) and a fair translation of it in English.

According to Daphne van der Kroft from the Dutch civil rights platform Bits of Freedom

The Second Chamber (parliament) has accepted the bill with an impressively broad majority. Now the bill will go to the senate before entering into force. Because of the majority in parliament, we expect the Senate to pass it too. But we’ll have to wait ’till the end of the year to be sure.

That, to be precise, somehow invalidates the widely celebrated media headlines of the “Dutch enactment” of net neutrality, but – as Daphne writes – the chances, for it to happen, are good.
We are likely to have the final result in a year or so.

Now let us have a closer look at the bill!

Systematically, the applicants have chosen the section

End Users Interests

which is dealt with in Article 7 of the Telecommunications Act to introduce the net neutrality bill.

The bill basically provides that ISP may hinder or slow down end users’ traffic only in the very limited cases described in Article 7.4a (1) a. to d.

A further interesting provision is contained in Article 7.4a (2) – ISP must not shut off end users’ networks from the Internet, if such networks may be considered detrimental (e.g. botnets), unless ISP have given the operators of the affected networks the possibility to rectify the faults in those networks.

The most commented provision, however, is to be found in Article 7.4a (3) – the one that prevents ISP from charging prices that might bar end users from accessing specific services or applications on the Internet.
The applicants stress that this still allows for the charging of different prices for different types of bandwidth, but it nevertheless must not result in overpricing the use of, say, Skype so that no one would consider using it.

Article 7.4a (5) foresees the introduction of minimum requirements regarding the quality of service of public electronic communication services in order to safeguard the above provisions.

Finally and for the sake of completeness, Article 7.4a (4) reflects the recent trend in Dutch legislation to delegate the creation of detailed rules and regulations to administrative bodies.

Conclusion

In my view the beginning to a Europe wide legislation on net neutrality has been made.

Consumers from other member states will very likely create pressure upon their political leadership to follow the Dutch example.

How long could politicians refrain from adopting net neutrality legislation, if their voters start to sing

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high,

There’s a land that I heard of

Once in a lullaby.

What do you think?

27 February 2011

Net Neutrality: It Is Getting Serious In Austria


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Do you remember my primer on net neutrality? In that very same I expressed my concern about the development in the United States and showed some optimism as to the “stable conditions” in Europe. Well, I might have been wrong. But let me first remind you

What is net neutrality about?

In a nutshell: net neutrality is the principle proposed for user access to the Internet, which would prevent Internet Service Providers (ISP) from acts of discrimination related to different kinds of Internet traffic that would result in restricting content, sites or platforms.
Having monitored the press releases this week, I
came across what sounded very much like a war cry against that principle. Somewhat suprisingly, it came from Austria.

What is the current menace?

In a very recent meeting in London, Mr Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO of the Telekom Austria Group, reportedly challenged the principle of  net neutrality, thereby using harsh, even menacing expressions. For those not necessarily familiar with the abovementioned company: Telekom Austria is the incumbent telco operator in Austria that still has a significant market power.

From what I read, he has considered to block the access to services such as Skype and Google Voice, provided they “cannibalize and eat up our revenues“. This sounds scary, does it not? And should Internet users just accept that threat or can they rely on some shelter? Let us have a look at the regulatory front.

What does the regulation say?

You will not find a specific language on net neutrality in the regulations currently in force. The Access Directive from 2002 spends some words on “adequate access, interconnection and interoperability of services” in its Article 5. In the light of the older legislation, however, this represents an instruction related to interconnection rather than to net neutrality. The latter did simply not represent an issue in 2002.

But things have changed with the issuance of the revised Telecoms Package in 2009. The updated version of the Access Directive contains not only European Commission’s declaration on net neutrality, it even mandates the Member States to “promote the ability of end-users to access and distribute information or run applications and services of their choice“. The Member States are under the obligation to transpose that directive by 25 May 2011.
Things look now brighter, do they not? Nevertheless, we should take Mr Ametsreiter’s words very seriously.

My concluding thoughts

I have some understanding for Mr Ametsreiter’s concern. Incumbents such as Telekom Austria are under the obligation to provide for a universal service. In the last decade however, they have gradually been bleeding market share and revenue in the realm of voice services. A good chunk of the customers they have lost went to Skype and Google Voice, since those have a nearly free of charge Voice over IP offerings. Incumbents claim that they remain sitting on the cost of their infrastructure, while Skype and the like absorb the profits. Without such infrastructure, incumbents as well as other ISP assert, there would not be Skype or content providers at all. But would there be any interest in ISP if there were not content providers?
Reminds me of who came first, the chicken or the egg.

The optimists among use might say: the market competition will solve it all.
I do not think so.
It is simple – if an incumbent makes a first step, others will follow and the market will fail. And this is the reason why we have regulation – to remedy such failures, irrespective of whether Mr Ametsreiter likes it or not.

 

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23 January 2011

Why Net Neutrality Matters


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Do you support the view that all content flowing through the Internet should be treated equally?

If yes, you are certainly familiar with the ongoing net neutrality debate in the United States. For those that have never heard of it, I recommend to have a butcher’s at this primer written by Rich Greenfield. You see, the issue goes back to as early as 1996, but appears to have attracted a huge medial attention in the last couple of months. Why?

That is what I asked myself and went through some reads, the most of which available online. So, I would like to share the information I gained with you.

It appears that net neutrality has a twofold characteristic: it is about quantity and quality. The qualitative aspect would regard the content and the quantitative – the service availability in terms of speed, performance and pricing.

In the US, net neutrality is commonly defined as “the notion that broadband Internet service providers should not be allowed to show preferences to certain providers of content or types of content by supplying them with faster service” (Ashley Packard, Digital Media Law, 67). This definition covers rather the qualitative aspects and corresponds to the common standards established in the European Union. Europe is known to have put much effort in regulating both, the quantitative and the qualitative aspect. These are the standards I grew up with, so, initially I could not really figure out the controversy so arising.

Well, the key might lie in that in the 1990s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began to treat broadband Internet service providers (ISP) favourably in comparison to, say, common carriers. In the result, such ISP have been under no obligation to share their conduits with competitors and have thus benefited from the lack of quantitative regulation. The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Brand X is considered to have cemented that state of affairs.

Besides, ISP had begun to also determine whether or not to convey certain content through their networks. They had, so to say, entered the area of the qualitative net neutrality. Having gained certain advantages by virtue of the missing quantitative regulation, they might have been willing to shape their service also in qualitative terms.

That seems to have been the point where the ball got really rolling. And when customers complained that Comcast secretly blocked their access to BitTorrent, the FCC decided to act and sanctioned Comcast. FCC grounded its order in the Internet Policy Statement it had issued already in 2005 in order to guarantee consumers unfettered access to all legal Web content, applications, and services. Comcast argued FCC would not have authority to regulate an ISP’s network management practices and eventually won before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

However, FCC did not give up and adopted new rules thereby claiming “an important step to preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation, investment, job creation, economic growth, competition, and free expression.” How dou you think did the ISP community perceive this act? Well, not necessarily in the affirmative. This time it was Verizon that undertook to challenge the newly issued rules, thereby applying  the successful recipe of the overstepped authority.

Having read that far, what do you think? What might be ISPs arguments to oppose net neutrality? I doubt they would claim changes merely in quantitative terms. Would the assumption that ISP attempt to limit the freedom and openness of the Internet be permissible? I could not figure it out why they should do so. Otherwise Verizon seems very reluctant to provide for cogent reasons why they oppose net neutrality.

For the time being and in contrast to the development in the US, the European Union Commission has managed to defend the concept of net neutrality. They have recognized that there is one Internet and that it should remain open and interconnected regardless of the technologies and services users rely on to access it.

While I understand that quantitative shaping network management might even be necessary, I would never accept a qualitative one. An ISP would then be in charge as to what content I would access. Such an effect would be even fortified by the fact that the market is likely to fail curing discrepancies so arising. You remember – many ISP are not obliged to share their networks with competitors. I could not just walk away from my ISP and sign with another.

Therefore I care for net neutrality. Actually, anyone using the Internet must care about net neutrality.

Otherwise there is a fair chance that we cede ground to persons like Mr Neil Berkett, the CEO of Virgin Media and they make the decisions on our behalf. And, believe me, that will not be necessarily to users’ benefit. Why? I guess that if you ask them, he will say “this net neutrality thing is a load of b****cks!”

 

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