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Science

EU net neutrality, mobile Internet rules to take effect in May

Neelie Kroes, the EU's telecom commissioner, explains changes in level of service and competition. The new directive will ensure that mobile phone and Internet providers will allow customers to switch within one day.

Google Nexus One

Soon, Europeans will have unrestricted mobile Internet access

In a speech Tuesday at a press conference in Brussels, Neelie Kroes, the EU's commissioner for the digital agenda, re-iterated her support for "net neutrality."

This principle ensures that all data on the Internet is treated equally, whether it is an e-mail, a web page, a video game or a Skype call.

"The Commission is today releasing a report on net neutrality that underlines the right of citizens and businesses to have easy access to an open and neutral Internet," she said. "This is a timely report because it comes just one month before the new EU telecom rules are due to come into force in all member states on May 25."

She explained that these new rules, which stem from a 2002 and 2009 EU telecom directive, would ensure net neutrality by allowing all European Internet users to "access and distribute information or run applications and services of their choice."

Skype

The new rules will now allow Skype to be used on European mobile phones

That would include the popular Internet phone service Skype, which was founded in 2003 and is now often blocked on mobile phone services as it competes with traditional mobile service, and sometimes filtered or blocked on landline Internet services.

More competitive Internet service

In the speech, Kroes also articulated three main points that European telecom and mobile companies will have to adhere to later next month: increased service transparency, minimum quality requirements, and speedier Internet service provider switching.

"In particular, customers should know the range of realistic connection speeds they will be getting - not some hypothetical 'up to' speed that in practice they would only get if they lived next door to the exchange or if no one else in their neighborhood were using the Internet at the same time," she said.

Kroes added that customers should be informed in advance about any traffic management techniques or restrictions of service, such as limitations on connection speeds or downloading.

The legislation will also allow national regulators to set a minimum level of services for all Internet service providers, as well as requiring that all phone and Internet operators let customers switch service between companies within one business day and be able to keep the same number.

However, some Internet activists suggested that Kroes' rhetoric was ignorant to the commercial realities of the European fixed-line and mobile Internet.

"In practice, millions of users can only chose one operator to connect to the Internet, either because of geographical or commercial constraints," wrote La Quadrature du Net, a French Internet advocacy group, in a statement posted to its website on Tuesday.

In addition, telecom industry officials didn't seem to be thrilled with the new EU regulations either.

In a statement also posted Tuesday to the European Telecommunications Networks Operators' website, a pan-European telecom lobbying group, Luigi Gambardella, the group's chairman, said that the new net neutrality rules would "undermine Europe's digital economy and hamper innovation."

"Europe's competition frameworks and the EU directives for electronic communications already guarantee the openness of the Internet and transparency for consumers while recognizing the need for innovation in networks and business models," said Gambardella.

France Telecom

Many European telecom firms say the new rules are unecessary

"With the fast increase in data traffic over fixed and mobile network, smart management of networks is essential for offering service quality to all end-users and for developing new innovative services," he added.

Telecom firms may be slow to respond

Some Internet watchers have cautiously applauded Kroes' new hard-line approach, but caution that if tough EU sanctions are not put on regulators who do not comply with the new directive, then these changes will mean very little.

"The intentions and approach of the Commission are certainly well-intentioned," wrote Joe McNamee, of the European Digital Rights Initiative, a Brussels-based non-profit, in an e-mail sent to Deutsche Welle.

"The bottom line is that they are taking an approach which has failed in the past and when it fails this time, the cost will be huge in terms of fundamental rights and the competitiveness of the online economy," he added.

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Kate Bowen

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