Aktion Freiheit statt Angst e.V. supports La Quadrature du Net in their fight for net neutrality
Netzneutralität means that no-one has to control and censor the Internet. Unhindered dissemination of information on the Internet guarantees the freedom of expression, access to knowledge, copyright and innovation. Thanks to this principle, everyone retains the freedom to access all the information and can provide Information to other freely, too.
In the following we document the responses of La Quadrature du Net to the questionnaire of the European Commission on net neutrality (Sep 30th 2010), which was signed by us, too.
Time for EU-Wide Net Neutrality Regulation
Response to the European Commission's questionnaire on Net Neutrality.
About La Quadrature du Net
La Quadrature du Net is a France-based advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet. More specifically, it advocates for the adaptation of French and European legislations to respect the founding principles of the Internet, most notably the free circulation of knowledge. As such, La Quadrature du Net engages
In addition to its advocacy work, the group also aims to foster a better understanding of legislative processes among citizens. Through specific and pertinent information and tools, La Quadrature du Net hopes to encourage citizens' participation in the public debate on rights and freedoms in the digital age. You can contact us at: email@example.com
La Quadrature du Net welcomes the European Commission's questionnaire on Net neutrality. As an advocacy group involved in the debate over the 2009 Telecoms Package, we appreciate Commissioner Kroes' commitment to safeguarding network neutrality and the ongoing consultation process, which we hope will result in the adoption of a EU-wide framework for protecting this founding principle of the Internet.
Our contribution addresses most of the points raised in the questionnaire. After underlining the positive externalities generated by the network neutrality, we underline that Net neutrality is currently very much as risk in Europe by giving concrete examples of the different commercial strategies which motivate these illegitimate discriminatory traffic management practices. These examples tend to show that the current regulatory framework, which only relies on transparency and competition, will fail to guarantee the neutral nature the Internet's physical infrastructure.
Through our answers to the following questions, we suggest different elements that should be included in any EU-wide Net neutrality regulation. More specifically, we take the view that all Internet access should abide by the principle of Net neutrality, and the exceptions to this principles respect an assessment framework guaranteeing that any traffic management practice actually benefits the freedom of communication of end-users that they affect. We also stress that the development of “so-called managed services” is not in and of itself in contradiction with the protection of and open communications infrastructure, but that public authorities will have design regulatory tools to ensure that these do not unsettle the Internet ecosystem. We conclude with further remarks on other issue that are structurally similar to Net neutrality.
We trust that our input will answer to your questions and remain at your disposal for any further inquiry you may have.
Preliminary comments: Why network neutrality fosters socio-economic progress.
At the core of the debate on network neutrality is the protection of the architectural design of the Internet, and more specifically the end-to-end principle, which asserts that the the control over Internet communications should happen at its endpoints. In this architecture, the interconnected networks that form physical infrastructure of the global Internet impose very little constraint on the behaviors of end-users and therefore maximizes their freedom of communication. The “transmission pipe” does not discriminate against the source, destination or actual content of the data transmitted over the network. In that sense, the networks are said to be neutral, and treat equitably all IP compatible communications.
Net neutrality benefits citizens. Contrary to older traditional means of communications such as radio or television, producing and circulating information on the Internet does not require significant money. Thus, the ability to produce information and knowledge on the Internet is much more equally distributed in society, and results in positive effects on democracy as a whole. Net neutrality ensures that the ability to voice opinions on the Internet does not depend on your financial capacities or social status. It gives people the freedom to express themselves as they wish, and to access the information they want without risking to be put at disadvantage by the few actors who operate the network.
In its decision against the HADOPI law implementing “three strikes” policy against file-sharing1, the French Constitutional Council outlined the importance of the Internet for citizenship. Finding that the law disrespected the 1789 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”, the Council stressed that free access to the Internet has become essential for the proper exercise of the freedom of expression and communication. By doing so, the constitutional judges implicitly recognized that an open Internet provides us with the opportunity to deepen people’s freedom and autonomy, and therefore improves democratic processes.
For all that, this freedom and autonomy are very much under threat. Media corporations, which have been continuously merging with the telecommunications industries for the past 30 years2, would like to re-establish the control they have on traditional media on the Internet. Hence, if Net neutrality was abandoned or even weakened in Europe, the control of the new, networked public sphere would be handed out to private actors, who could use discriminatory traffic management as a way of achieving control on the Internet ecosystem. It could turn the Internet into yet another predominantly commercial media.
Net neutrality benefits innovators. Studies3 show that Net neutrality facilitates innovation and competition, as economic actors take advantage of the level-playing field in communication networks to launch new services. The concept of “innovation without a permit”, where new entrants compete fairly with the incumbent giants is at the root of the development of Internet as we know it. Entrepreneurs of the Internet have become the linchpin of the emergent knowledge economy. Google, Wikipedia, Skype, eBay, Bittorrent, Twitter and so many other essential parts of the Internet took advantage of an open network and became widely used all over the world only a few months after being created, because it was relatively cheap to produce and distribute their innovative services.
However, when a service provider breaks the neutrality of the network, new entrants become vulnerable to unfair competition, given that their access to the Internet infrastructure can be restricted. Obviously, powerful actors in the telecom industries have an interest in imposing their control over information and communication networks. They do so by, for instance, banning innovative VOIP applications from mobile telecommunications services 4.
1. Net neutrality is undermined. So is freedom of communication.
Question 1: Is there currently a problem of net neutrality and the
Although commercially-motivated traffic discrimination practices have not been as aggressive as in the United States, violations of the network neutrality principle are gaining ground in the European Union. Since the apparition of traffic inspection technologies – usually referred too as Deep Packet Inspection – an increasing number of European Internet access providers (IAPs) implement network management practices that clearly breach this founding principle, both on wireless and land-line networks. Generally speaking, and as the following examples outline, we can distinguish between three types of anti-Net neutrality practices that are currently implemented in the EU:
➔ Throttling bandwidth-intensive protocols: Internet access providers are tempted to throttle certain class of traffic in order to limit their infrastructure costs. Peer-to-peer traffic has been the main victim of such discriminatory practices whereby an operator chooses slow down traffic to ensure that other protocols will enjoy better quality of service. For instance, Dutch operator UPC announced in August 2009 that it would throttle all protocols other than HTTP (Web traffic) between noon and midnight everyday. 5 Other European IAPs are also said to engage in similar practices.
Even more worrying is the fact that some IAPs are seeking to monetize the under-capacity of their infrastructure. In the United Kingdom, British Telecom throttles all peer-to-peer traffic but sells premium subscriptions allowing customers to avoid such discrimination by paying a higher fee. In this way, operators are in position to benefit from the scarcity of their network's bandwidth, as consumers are compelled to pay a higher price to communicate certain classes of data in normal conditions. The direct effect of such practices is to disincentivize investments in more network capacities, even through the price of bandwidth is rapidly decreasing.
Beyond protocol-based discrimination practices, IAPs are also interested in proposing premium offers that would prioritize the traffic coming from or going to “first-rate” subscribers. In November 2009, Vodafone announced that it would launch such an offer in Spain: a few subscribers would get priority at the expense of all the others during congestion periods of Vodafone's 3G wireless network.6
➔ Inhibiting competing services: Another obvious breach of Net neutrality is the blocking of certain protocols or applications by IAPs as a way to undermine competition. In some instances, the use of these services is subject to extra fees. The most oft-cited example of such discriminatory practices is that of the voice-over-IP (VOIP) application Skype. Although the blocking of VOIP on wireless networks has been abandoned by a few IAPs in recent months, many of them still engage in this kind of anti-competitive behaviors and will continue to do so in the future for other innovative services in the absence of Net neutrality regulation.
➔ Billing online service providers for prioritized access to consumers: A third category of anti-Net neutrality practices not actually put in practice but increasingly contemplated by some IAPs is the establishment of “tolls”, whereby online service providers would have to pay IAPs in order to benefit from a normal quality of service on their networks. In early-2010, the CEO of Telefonica declared that "Internet search engines use our Net without paying anything at all, which is good for them but bad for us. It is obvious that this situation must change, our strategy is to change this”.7 Such language indicates that some IAPs are considering developing new business models by monetizing online service provider's access to their subscribers, which would profoundly undermine the Internet ecosystem.
Competition alone will not safeguard the Internet's open architecture. Even though ex ante regulation has allowed for sufficient levels of competition in most European markets, many European consumers – especially in rural areas – depend on one or two Internet providers. In such conditions, a regulatory statu quo would be unable to safeguard the common- good nature of the Internet, and many of the positive externalities resulting for network neutrality would be lost. In the view of such risks, it would be a great mistake on the part of European institutions to adopt a “laissez-faire” policy letting IAPs free to develop new business models based on traffic discrimination.
2. The current regulatory framework will fail to eradicate commercially-motivated violations of network neutrality.
Question 3: Is the regulatory framework capable of dealing
The directives of the Telecoms Package adopted in late-2009 contains provisions which the European Commission said were useful to protect network neutrality. According to the Commission, transparency regarding traffic discrimination practices and competition between IAPs so that subscribers can switch providers if they are dissatisfied can help alleviate anti-Net neutrality practices. But in the light of the growing number of violations of this crucial principle, this first European “Net neutrality doctrine” is inappropriate and needs to be completed.
The current regulatory framework, relying on both transparency and competition, ensues from the Commission's will to apply at the European level the policies developed by the British national regulatory authority, Ofcom. As early as 2006, Ofcom had to deal with discriminatory practices on the part of British ISPs. It first favored rules governing the
But the effect of these policies on network neutrality is very dubious. First, transparency does not prevent all the IAPs in a given market to adopt anti-network neutrality practices.
With the Telecoms Package, the European Commission chose to expand this minimalist approach to the issue of network neutrality to the rest of the EU. Even though nothing prevents national regulators to go further than this minimum standard, network neutrality is so important for the future of our economies and societies that it should be resolutely protected across all of the European Union (see below).
Question 4: To what extent is traffic management necessary from
Of course, the principle of Net neutrality does not prevent an operator to engage in traffic management practices. The object of EU-wide network neutrality safeguards should be to provide a consistent and enforceable framework to assess when traffic management practices are reasonable –i.e. when they seek to protect the freedom of communication of end-users– and when they are not. In the view of many stakeholders, there are two situations in which such practices are legitimate:
Unforeseeable and temporary congestion: When a wireless or land-line network goes through a period of unforeseen congestion (e.g. in the case of equipment failure), network operators are entitled to temporarily implement discriminatory traffic management practices in order to ensure to fluidity of data streams. But every time, operators must be able to prove to the regulatory authority that such congestion of its network was not foreseeable and that it took necessary steps to correct it). If the deployment of very high broadband networks takes longer than expected and operators face a durable saturation of their network, then the available bandwidth should be shared equally between all the subscribers and all service providers, until operators invest to upgrade their infrastructure.
Security threat on the network: In case of an sudden attack or all other event undermining the proper operation of the network, discriminatory practices are also legitimate.
They should be made transparent in order to foster collaboration among the community of network operators and allow for both a sound diagnosis of security threats and for the adoption of the most adequate methods to deal with them.
3. Protecting network neutrality through ad hoc regulations.
Question 5: To what extent will net neutrality concerns be allayed
The question seems to acknowledge that the “best-effort” Internet is necessarily neutral.
➔ Define the principle of network neutrality: First, the specific architectural principles of the Internet should be recognized in the regulatory framework through the definition of the Internet as a public electronic communications network abiding by the principle of Net neutrality. 9 This principle would rule out any practice to the source, destination or actual content of the data transmitted over the network . IAPs would be compelled to respect this principle by guaranteeing final users the freedom to
➔ Provide a framework for reasonable network management practices: Exceptions to the network neutrality principle should be possible in exceptional circumstances , such as in the case of unforeseeable congestion or in the event of a security threat on the network. The French NRA recommends that these “reasonable” traffic management practices respect the the principles of relevance of the motives (congestion or security threat –see question 4), proportionality, efficiency, transparency and non-discrimination 10. To the extent that they clearly exclude commercially-motivated violations of network neutrality, these principles seem appropriate since they are flexible enough to accommodate any future legitimate need for traffic management practices while preventing abuses.
➔ Create sanctions to punish any illegal violation of network neutrality: A third important component of a regulatory framework aimed at protecting network neutrality is the creation of appropriate sanctions. National regulatory authorities must be able to sanction IAPs when they violate Net neutrality rules, for instance through monetary fines (which should be persuasive enough). In the event of very serious and/or deliberate interferences with the freedom of communications of end-users, the judiciary authority should be competent to sanction IAPs.
Question 6: Should the principles governing traffic
The same principle should apply to both wireless and fixed-line networks.
On the long term however, regulators should build on the success of WIFI technologies and consider reforming the European spectrum policy to authorize new unlicensed uses of the spectrum. As the United-States moves towards opening “so-called” white-spaces to unlicensed uses,11 Europe risks lagging behind if it fails to do the same thing. The advent of
Question 8-14: General remarks on managed services, quality
Both the Internet and managed services should be defined in the regulatory framework and steps taken to ensure that the development of managed services will not occur at the expense of the Internet. According to the French national regulatory authority (Arcep), managed services are acceptable as long as they “respect competition laws and sector- specific regulation, and provided that the managed service does not degrade the quality of Internet access”. Such degradation would occur if, for instance, an operator decided to allocate the vast majority of its bandwidth to managed services, thereby depriving the Internet access from sufficient network capacities.
To ensure that managed services will not undermine the attractiveness of Internet access offers, Arcep proposes that the quality of service requirements included in the Telecoms Package be construed in the context of the neutral Internet to protect the latter against degradation “Given the shared social interest in having an Internet connectivity that
To preserve the attractiveness of Internet access, managed services should also respect specific conditions. In particular, it seems that they each managed service should only give access to one specific type of application or a limited package of services (whether these are HD video, videoconferencing, e-Health, etc). Otherwise, one managed service could absorb most of the applications that the Internet has to offer and unfairly compete with this open and neutral communications architecture.
4. Further remarks.
Question 2: How might problems arise in future? Could these emerge
Question 7: What other forms of prioritisation are taking place?
Other parts of the Internet value chain that see the emergence of bottlenecks which do or could hinder innovation and freedom of communication. Indeed, all the technical architectures that form part of the Internet ecosystem can be more or less open to innovation and uses that were not originally foreseen (i.e. the concept of “generativity”, elaborated by Jonathan Zittrain14). Networks, connected devices as well as applications, services and content flowing from one device to the other through the network all form part of the same Internet ecosystem, in which innovation is best served when users retain the freedom to use them as they wish.
If their goal is to promote fair competition and innovation in the device, content and application marketplaces, European institutions should be wary of business-models aimed at bundling devices to networks, or applications or content to devices.
Question 15: Besides the traffic management issues discussed
They are off course direct implications of network neutrality violations on freedom of expression, media pluralism, and cultural diversity, but these should all be safeguarded if the EU regulatory framework is updated to include strong protection against illegitimate traffic management practices.
One related key aspect is to recognize that site or domain-wide filtering is an extremely serious measure impacting freedom of information and communication. Obviously, any attempt to mandate such measures without a prior judiciary decision under a fair and equitable trial is in contradiction to fundamental rights. Even judicially ordered filtering raises serious issues as it unavoidably risks to prevent access to other contents that the one than the offending one. As it is also an inefficient measure, it should be discouraged.
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