Long live net neutrality
12 November 2010
One of the keys to the success of the Internet is the “neutral” nature of the web. When it was first launched, the “founding fathers” made sure the information flowing through the “pipes” of the World Wide Web wouldn’t be blocked, adulterated or accorded preferential treatment by the telecom companies operating them, the object being to give everyone equal access to the web. This enabled the web to develop freely and experience a boom unprecedented in the history of industry.
But the question of net neutrality has recently come up once again in the light of certain applications, such as video on demand (VOD), that reduce bandwidth speed (and consequently the volume of information circulating). To cope with that problem, a number of Internet service providers (ISPs), backed by the entertainment industry (which supplies the content), want to introduce several different connection speeds – and bill services according to bandwidth.
Although some limitations on absolute net neutrality are generally accepted – for reasons of security or congestion control, for example – on a temporary, targeted and transparent basis, Internet stakeholders agree on the primacy of the principle. That consensus was recently reaffirmed by the public consultation and the summit on the open internet and net neutrality held by the European Commission on 11 November in Brussels. In her address, “Digital Agenda” commissioner Neelie Kroes made the case for a "healthy and transparent competitive environment” and adherence to the principle of free access to the Internet.
But she also brought up the possibility of allowing “network operators and services and content providers to explore innovative business models, leading to a more efficient use of the networks and creating new business opportunities at different levels of the Internet value chain”. In a word, she seemed more interested in preserving competition than in safeguarding net neutrality – which just happens to be one of the principles that make the Internet the most powerful democratic tool ever invented. So it would be regrettable if Brussels were to put that precious tool on the line.