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Neelie Kroes’ up-and-down evolution in the Net Neutrality issue

5 June, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Netzneutralität: Neelie Kroes im Wechselbad der Gefühle

On 30 May 2013, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes gave a speech in front of the European Parliament calling for the need to guarantee network neutrality in Europe. During the speech she announced she would deliver a legislative package by Easter 2014. “We can't afford in Europe all the countless, needless, artificial obstacles placed in the way of a telecoms single market” said Kroes who asked for the European Parliament's support.

The request was curious, given that the Parliament has already issued two resolutions in December 2012 calling on the Commission to propose legislation to ensure net neutrality and urging Commissioner Kroes to end her "wait and see" approach.

Kroes enthusiastically stated her intention to make a reform and get a strong single market: “I want you to be able to say that you saved their right to access the open internet, by guaranteeing net neutrality. I want to channel your knowledge and passion into the legislation needed to deliver a real single market.”

However, only a week after Commissioner requested the European Parliament for support to guarantee net neutrality, she confirmed the civil society’s concerns that her position on the issue remained problematic by her keynote address at the European Parliament organised by Access on 4 June 2013.

Kroes identified “transparency,” “consumer choice” and the "ability for consumers to switch providers “without countless obstacles” instead of net neutrality as the main paths to an open internet. “For me, an open platform is built on competition, innovation transparency, and choice,” she said.

The event of 4 June, entitled “Guaranteeing competition and the open internet in Europe,” was co-hosted by ALDE European Parliament member Marietje Schaake and EPP Parliament member Sabine Verheyen. Following Kroes’ key note speech, representatives and experts from European Institutions, civil society and industry sector groups offered expert testimony on network neutrality.

While Kroes said that the internet is a “a great place to exercise and enjoy liberty”, she seemed to agree with the idea that operators should offer different types of internet since “different users have different network needs.”

But she did cite the 2011 study by European regulators which found that that 20% of European citizens are subject to arbitrary restrictions on fixed access, with 36% on mobile connections. “It’s clear to me that many Europeans expect protection against some commercial tactics,” she said.

However, Kroes did not propose any concrete solutions to this growing problem, emphasizing that transparency over net neutrality is the key gateway to an open internet. “With genuine transparency, I doubt many consumers would care to buy such a limited product. I doubt many ISPs would dare to offer one,” she said.

Following her keynote, the Commissioner was presented with an open letter on net neutrality signed by 20 European CEOs and entrepreneurs representing a variety of online businesses. This coalition, including companies like Viber, The Next Web, Storify and WeePee, expressed support in fighting the tendencies of access operators to act as gatekeepers of the internet.

Civil society continues to advocate for a proposal that would enshrine net neutrality into law. While the possibility for action in this legislative period will end this fall, as Markus Beckedahl from the German blog Netzpolitik wrote, “it is doable. if there is a will.”

Neelie Kroes’ Speech: The politics of the completing the telecoms single market (30.05.2013)

Open Letter by European CEOs to the European Commission (04.06.2013)

Livestream: Guaranteeing Competition and the Open Internet in Europe (04.06.2013)

Net Neutrality Event: Guaranteeing Competition and the Open Internet in Europe (programme) (04.06.2013)

Commissioner Kroes calls for net neutrality and wants support (only in German, 30.05.2013)

Net Neutrality in Europe

EDRi-gram: The European Parliament supports net neutrality (19.12.2012)

(Thanks to EDRi observer Raegan MacDonald, Access)



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