EC's Neelie Kroes weighs in on net neutrality debate

EC Vice-President for the Digital Agenda says healthy competition is the internet's best friend but traffic management practices should be transparent; it should be easy for unhappy consumers to switch providers

Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda has weighed in to the debate on net neutrality. Speaking in Brussels, Kroes said that the European telecoms framework provides the conditions for both network and service competition and has given rise to many competitive Internet offers, and easier switching. However, for competition to work, consumers need to be effectively informed about providers' traffic management practices and it should be easy to switch to alternative operators if customers are not satisfied.

Kroes went on to say that Europe should avoid regulation which might deter investment. Network operators, service and content providers should be allowed to explore innovative business models, which in turn should lead to more efficient use of the networks and the creation of new business opportunities.

At the same time, said  Kroes, traffic management is essential to optimise the provision of services, but should be used properly and should not simply become  a means of exploiting current network constraints.

Kroes acknowledged that blocking and ‘throttling' of sites continues to a certain extent, citing the example of the blocking of Skype on mobile networks. She urged consumers to vote with their feet and to take their business to providers who do allow open access.

The European Parliament's telecoms framework provides important tools to ensure the open internet, said Kroes.  However she noted that if problems persisted, she was not afraid to change the law to achieve competition and consumer choice.

UK Government perspective

UK Communications Minister Ed Vaizey, speaking recently , echoed many of these views and confirmed that the UK government would apply a light touch to internet regulation. Providers should be transparent and clear about the nature and extent of their traffic management policies. At the same time ISPs should be allowed to manage their networks ‘to ensure good customer service' and to have flexibility in business models.

Vaizey went on to say that these different business models could include ‘the evolution of a two sided market where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service.'