Specialised services: A make-or-break issue for the open internet
Net neutrality is the principle that all the internet traffic is treated equally, without blocking or slowing down certain data. Net neutrality is crucial for fair competition between online services, for innovation, and for freedom of expression online.
The European Parliament has adopted a Regulation that includes provisions on net neutrality. Currently, the BEREC (the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications) is preparing the guidelines for how the Regulation should be implemented across Europe. From the citizen’s point of view, the guidelines need to be improved concerning specialised services.
A “specialised service” is a service that is run over the same network as the internet, but which needs to be treated differently – for example to have a guaranteed speed or guaranteed reliability.
For example, if you are a doctor and want to use a telemedicine application to conduct a procedure, the connection needs to have a guaranteed speed and reliability. Such services may not work reliably enough through the internet. To make sure that the patient’s life is not put at risk, the connection would be given the status of a “specialised service”. Real specialised services, like a telemedicine procedure, have nothing to do with the internet. They are services that may use the same technology, but they cannot be part of the global internet.
On the other hand, any existing or future online service, for example a video sharing platform like YouTube, should not be qualified as a “specialised service”. Why? Because this would simply give preferential treatment to one platform (like YouTube) ahead of other platforms (for example Vimeo, Dailymotion).
In short, having the status of a “specialised service” must be genuinely necessary for the functionality of the service. Using it as just a convenient advantage over competitors should not be allowed. The whole reason the internet is a huge success is that everyone can communicate with everyone on an equal basis. If the biggest video sharing website or the biggest e-mail service could simply buy priority to provide faster services than everyone else, it would be impossible for new services to come into the market. This would reduce competition, innovation and your choice.
Permitting existing online services to be reclassified as “specialised services” must be avoided.
To help BEREC to finalise their guidelines addressing specialised services in a way it guarantees real net neutrality, you can go to SaveTheInternet.eu and send BEREC a message that you want them to support a free, innovative open internet. The consultation is open until 18 July.