23.06.2011 @ 09:26 CET
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The Netherlands on Wednesday (22 June) became the first EU member state to enshrine in law the concept of net neutrality, the idea that there should be no hierarchy of information or services in the internet.
The measure, passed by a large majority in the lower house and expected to pass without hitch through the senate, will prevent Dutch mobile telephone operators from blocking or charging consumers more for using internet-based communications services.
“The blocking of services or the imposition of a levy is a brake on innovation,” deputy prime minister Maxime Verhagen said, according to the New York Times.
“That’s not good for the economy. This measure guarantees a completely free Internet which both citizens and the providers of the online services can then rely on.”
Net neutrality is one of the hottest global regulatory issues around. Internet service providers argue they need to be allowed to charge premiums for some services, such as the video-sharing website YouTube, which they say congest the networks.
Digital activists meanwhile say that data on the information highway needs to be treated without discrimination regardless of their nature or source, otherwise a hierarchy will be introduced whereby some information is only available to those who can pay.
The European consumers group, Beuc, welcomed the “landmark” initiative.
“Contrary to the EU Telecoms Package and the UK approach, where transparency of traffic management is the tiny step taken, this Dutch law safeguards consumers’ right to have access to the content, service and applications of their choice,” said the group’s Monique Goyens.
The telecommunications industry immediately warned that the law may put operators off from making investments in high-speed net infrastructure, for fear of not recouping their money.
The Dutch law is the first such in the EU and second globally. Chile has also written net neutrality into its telecommunications law that came into effect in May.
So far the EU has indicated it will not introduce legislation to protect net neutrality. In April, digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said she would leave it to the markets to self-regulate.
Her report on the issue said that traffic management on the Internet “is necessary to ensure the smooth flow of internet traffic, particularly at times when networks become congested, and so guarantee a consistent good quality of service.”
However, she would not hesitate to come up with “more stringent measures” if Brussels deems that internet service providers go too far in their “traffic management” measures.