Legislating Net Neutrality
This week saw the Dutch Parliament passed a law stopping mobile operators from blocking or charging extra for voice calling done via the net. This is likely to make the Dutch the first in Europe to use Skype, WhatsApp, a free text service, and other web-based services on Smartphones for no extra charge.
Net neutrality is a controversial issue. It is the principle which advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers' access to networks that participate in the internet. Specifically, network neutrality prevents restrictions on content, sites, platforms, the kinds of equipment that may be attached, or the modes of communication. Some see this as a sacred principle that defines the spirit of the open internet. Furthermore, it is suggested that allowing for preferential treatment of Internet traffic, or having a tiered service, would put newer online companies at a disadvantage and slow innovation in online services. At the other extreme others, such as multimedia corporations, regard it as an issue that may hamper their future rounds of innovation in online services . ISPs claim they need to discriminate because unchecked traffic from some applications, such as games or file-sharing programs, can slow down their entire network for all customers .
US regulators approved rules in late 2010 aimed at prohibiting broadband companies from interfering with internet traffic . The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Broadband Policy Statement in 2005 which included a set of guiding principles upon which consumer entitlements should be based:
• Access the lawful Internet content of their choice;
• Run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;
• Connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network;
• Competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers .
The European Union endorses net neutrality principles. The EU’s Commissioner for the Digital Agenda is currently looking closely at current market practices and is due to report findings by the end of 2011 .