Draft Council conclusions on Net Neutrality

By EDRi · July 27, 2011

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Deutsch: [EU-Rat: Entwurf des Ratsbeschlusses zur Netzneutralität |]

On 15 July 2011, the Council (of the EU Member States) published Draft
“Conclusions” (a policy statement) on Net Neutrality. In the document, the
Council underlined the need to preserve the open and neutral character of
the Internet and established net neutrality as “a policy objective.”

While this seems – and is – positive at first reading, the document also
refers to “affordable and secure high bandwidth communications and rich and
diverse content and services” as “an important policy objective” –
apparently establishing net neutrality as a somewhat secondary priority. In
summary, therefore, the Council indicates its willingness to embrace the
concept of “net neutrality” in further regulatory activities without being
entirely clear on what status this “policy objective” has in the hierarchy
of its communications policy.

Nonetheless, the importance of net neutrality for the economy is spelled out
in some detail, with the document pointing to the fundamental role of
telecommunications and broadband development for investment, job creation
and economic recovery. The document points to “the need to maintain the
openness of Internet while ensuring that it can continue to provide
high-quality services in a framework that promotes and respects fundamental
rights such as freedom of expression and freedom to conduct business.”

This appears to diverge very positively from more extremist and populist
views expressed recently about “civilising” the Internet and, in the US
environment, experimenting with the fundamental building blocks of the
Internet in order to protect the perceived needs of a narrow range of
stakeholders. The draft Conclusions take a further step away from this
approach when it refers to “the importance of ensuring that users can
create, distribute and access content and services of their choice,” moving
away from the implicit support for policing of content by Internet
intermediaries in the OECD Communiqué on Principles for Internet
Policy-Making which made repeated references to the right to access
“legitimate” content and “legitimate” sharing of information.

The biggest challenge facing the Council when seeking to defend this
positive approach is the range of demands for Internet intermediaries to
interfere with traffic to protect narrow vested interests such as
intellectual property owners and the willingness of certain intermediaries
to “voluntarily” engage in such interferences as an underhand means of
“normalising” interferences by access providers in citizens’ communications.

It will be increasingly difficult for Member States (as indeed it is already
beginning to be the case for the European Commission) to demand that
Internet intermediaries meddle with citizens’ communications for the
perceived benefit of certain vested interests and, simultaneously, demand
that the same intermediaries not meddle with citizens’ communications for
their own business interests.

Draft Council conclusions on Net Neutrality (15.07.2011)

Consolidated EU telecoms regulatory framework (12.2009)

OECD Communiqué on Principles for Internet Policy-Making (28-29.06.2011)

(Contribution by Joe McNamee and Daniel Dimov – EDRi)