• The open internet should remain the norm and specialized services the exception
  • Users must have access to transparent information about internet traffic management
  • Clear rules are needed to ensure that equivalent types of traffic are treated equally
  • Specific cases in which network operators can manage internet traffic should be clearly defined
  • Undue content blocking or discrimination must be prevented

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What is at stake?

The internet is a key driver for innovation, democratic participation and free speech. Its open nature lies at the heart of its success, fuelling investment in creative and innovate services and directly boosting growth in broadband uptake.

The fundamental principle of the “open internet” or “net neutrality” rests upon rules at national, regional and supranational level, which prevent online traffic from being unduly blocked, slowed down, altered, degraded or discriminated against. A future where multiple internet speed lanes for different types services is the norm would fatally undermine this principle and create a clear digital divide between online ‘haves and have nots’.

As public service media, we want to ensure that our audiences enjoy unfettered, non-discriminatory and transparent access to online content of public interest. To guarantee this, we need a clear framework that ensure that all online data traffic is managed transparently and treated equally.

“Public service media organizations in Europe are committed to an open, transparent and innovative internet offering strong public and economic value. Key issues such as media pluralism on the internet and innovation in the digital economy are at stake. A set of robust rules needs to be implemented to safeguard net neutrality for all EU citizens.”

Wouter Gekiere
Deputy Head of European Affairs

Ensuring transparency for end-users

Transparency on the open internet is the first pre-condition to ensure users’ ability to access content online. The possibility for consumers to make informed choices hinges on the provision of clear and accessible information about how internet traffic is managed and the conditions and quality of connections.

Transparency also underpins competitive broadband access markets. However, measures strengthening transparency will only have a limited impact unless they are combined with a robust and clear policy regarding internet traffic management.

Limiting traffic management and avoiding discrimination

Traffic management practices by network operators are only justified in specific and clearly identified cases. Without a well-defined framework for limiting these practices, there will be leeway for network operators to discriminate internet traffic based on origin or ownership, distorting competition and compromising the open and neutral character of the internet.

Defining cases in which internet traffic can be reasonably managed must therefore be combined with a clear rule that prevents online traffic from being blocked, slowed down, altered, degraded or discriminated against and that ensures that equivalent types of traffic are treated equally.

Preventing new forms of traffic discrimination from arising

With network operators increasingly offering content services of their own, there is an inherent risk that they will use their capacity to manage internet traffic to favour their offers of content over those of competitors. They could also facilitate access to content and services from partners with whom they have developed special arrangements or alternatively restrict access to competing services by slowing down data flows. This could lead to a situation where only content providers with sufficient resources can negotiate ‘preferential’ deals, distorting competition, hampering innovation and reducing user choice.

Enabling co-existence between internet access and specialized services

Access to the open internet is currently provided over the same broadband networks as specialized (or “managed”) services. The latter offer a guaranteed level of quality for services where a slower or degraded connection would have a considerable impact on user experience. For example, IPTV (television transmission via Internet Protocol) can be justified as a specialized service as it would be unable to function under a regular connection.

So far, the open internet and specialized services have co-existed in a dynamic fashion. However, it is crucial to maintain clear rules establishing net neutrality as the norm and specialized services as the exception. Otherwise there is a danger that finite network capacity would be dominated by specialized services, impairing access to the open internet.

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