What is Net Neutrality about?
In brief, Net Neutrality is the concept that all internet data or ‘traffic’ should be treated equally and therefore no undue
discriminations should exist. When this is the case, users enjoy the freedom to access the content, services, applications, of
their choice, using any device they want to. Defending an open and neutral internet is absolutely paramount for European
What is the consumer interest in Net Neutrality?
A neutral and open internet is essential to exercise democratic rights, participate in today’s interconnected online societies and
benefit from eCommerce, so consumers need:
A connection of the speed and reliability advertised.
A connection which enables the sending and receiving of content, use of services, applications, hardware and
software of their choice.
To be able to reach any destination from any point on the internet without restrictions or blocking. This is known as
the ‘end-to-end’ principle.
Awareness of when and how their own traffic is being managed by telecom operators.
To be able to access the internet’s wealth of content without economic discrimination by telecom operators.
So what’s the problem?
Increasingly, traffic management (which can be necessary in certain circumstances) breaches Net Neutrality, thereby
changing the internet as we have known it. Telecoms companies have the technical means to manage traffic to their own
commercial interests by ‘throttling’ specific services or degrading overall internet access. Sometimes they even outright
block a specific service such as voice and media online communications tools (known as Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP).
Other examples of discriminated content include companies delivering their own movie/multimedia services more
smoothly than a rival’s or preferential treatment given to one music streaming platform over another.
Is Net Neutrality really under attack?
In 2012, the European Commission and the independent Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications
(BEREC) investigated this question. The answer was unambiguous: Net Neutrality breaches are a current problem in
Europe, not a future one.
1 in every 2 Europeans may have their VoIP services on mobile internet blocked.
2 in 3 Europeans’ content may be discriminated against –positively and negatively, especially at peak times.
Telecoms operators tend to discriminate in favour of their own specialised services, to the loss of competing services.
BEREC states the findings are only a partial view of European practices, therefore abuses of Net Neutrality may be even
more pronounced. This data and that of the websites cited in the last paragraph below, shows European consumers no
longer enjoy a neutral internet.
Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs AISBL | Der Europäische Verbraucherverband
Rue d’Arlon 80, B-1040 Brussels • Tel. +32 (0)2 743 15 90 • Fax +32 (0)2 740 28 02 • www.beuc.eu
Why is it important?
Well, in the words of European institutions and some high profile others:
Neelie Kroes, EU Digital Agenda Commissioner: “ISPs shouldn't be allowed to limit the access to service or content out of
commercial motivation, but only in cases of security issues and spamming.” (At confirmation hearing, 2010).
European Parliament: “Re-emphasises the potential challenges arising from departures from network neutrality, such as
anti-competitive behaviour, blockage of innovation, restriction of freedom of expression, lack of consumer awareness and in-
fringement of privacy, as well as the fact that lack of net neutrality hurts businesses, consumers and society as a whole”. (Digital
Single Market report, December 2012, #83)
Council of the EU: “Underlines the need to preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet and consider net neu-
trality as a policy objective...namely in aspects such as the promotion of the ability of end users to access and distribute infor-
mation or run applications and services of their choice.” (Council conclusions on the open internet and net neutrality in
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web: “There are a lot of companies who would love to be able to limit what
webpages you can see and governments would love to be able to slow down information going down to particular sites…we
can never spend enough time fighting for the neutrality of the underlying network. The moment you let net neutrality go, you
lose the web as it is. You lose something essential – the fact that any innovator can dream up an idea and set up a website at
some random place and let it just take off from word of mouth.” (Nokia World Annual Conference, London 2010)
Barack Obama, USA President: “Once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others, then smaller
voices get squeezed out and we all lose. We have to ensure free and full exchange of information and that starts with an open
internet.” (Speech, Google headquarters, 2007 )
What is happening on Net Neutrality?
The existing provisions in the EU Telecoms Package aim to protect Net Neutrality, but fall short. An increasing number of coun-
tries are going beyond these provisions, addressing the issue individually to prevent breaches. Laws in The Netherlands and
Slovenia now specifically protect the principle; discussions are ongoing in France and Belgium. Other countries such as the UK
and Norway pursue self or co-regulation. The challenge remains – how can a fully neutral internet for European citizens and
consumers be ensured across the EU?
What needs to happen?
European and national legislators and policy makers need to restore and strongly protect Net Neutrality as a technologi-
cal principle to the benefit of European consumers1.
Most importantly, a general prohibition on discrimination of traffic streams unless justified by clearly defined exception.
Only a pan-EU approach will ensure solutions are effective – diverse national measures complicate matters.
National Regulatory Authorities to provide clear guidance to telecoms operators and ISPs on the expected Quality of Service.
Where can I find out more?
By visiting www.netneutralitymap.org you can clearly see a global map and data breakdown of where traffic is being managed.
It colourfully exemplifies the problem and gives detailed data. At www.respectmynet.eu consumers can report when their
internet service is unduly affected. It is then investigated and reported back to the European Commission.
x/2013/024 - April 2013