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After the US FCC, Canada, Google and Verizon speaking in favour of the open Internet, the EU needs to commit through action

At the beginning of last week, the CEOs of Skype, Sony Electronics, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other Internet, telecommunications and media firms published an open letter to the US Federal Communications Commission to support the proposal to introduce rules to protect the open Internet, i.e. users’ right to access and use what they want online, which we applauded earlier. Also, in a joint blog posting released late Wednesday, US network operator Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam and Google CEO Eric Schmidt said they think it’s important for the Internet to remain an unrestricted and open platform. On Wednesday the Canadian authorities issued a framework by which they will judge whether Internet service providers are discriminating against certain kinds of traffic and content. Then on Thursday, the FCC voted 3 to 2 in favour of developing into formal rules a set of six Internet Principles, designed to safeguard the open Internet.

And in Europe? Well, Skype is of course still arbitrarily blocked by a number of mobile operators, across several EU countries. So are thousands of VoIP and Peer-to-Peer applications. We hear however that the European Commission has circulated a draft declaration on net Neutrality which mentions the ‘high importance’ it attaches to ‘preserving the open and neutral character of the Internet, taking full account of the will of the co-legislators now to enshrine net neutrality as a policy objective and regulatory principle’. The Commission goes on to promise a review of the problem will be carried out, with recommendations made to the European Parliament by late 2010, monitoring the market in the meantime and stamping out on abuses using its existing powers. This act of faith by the EU for an open Internet is welcome.

But so far, we’ve seen no action by the European authorities to stamp out these blatant abuses of what Internet users can do online. The excuse that ‘net neutrality is an American problem’ just doesn’t wash anymore; it’s too convenient and simply not true, as millions of users and thousands of VoIP, peer-to-peer or video streaming innovators can attest because they are blocked or their traffic degraded by operators throughout Europe, just like Skype. The fact that politicians haven’t heard about their problems is because these guys are just too small – they don’t have armies of lobbyists like the big operators do. The thousands of innovators that depend on an open Internet to continue to innovate and put their products, applications, services and content online cannot wait years for lengthy political debates to take place, or for the market to ‘correct itself’ – they’ll have gone bankrupt before then. Users cannot wait either, before they can freely use what they have paid for – full Internet access, whether it’s fixed or mobile.

People started complaining about high costs of calling from abroad on mobile phones in the late 1990s – it took 10 years and the market didn’t correct itself so we ended up with the so-called Roaming Regulation to force prices down. Now, with the threat to the open Internet that is on our hands, we cannot wait: the European Commission should be bold and use any of its powers (such as the new Roaming Regulation or its mandate to preserve the functioning of the internal European market), to stamp out abuse, at the earliest opportunity. If it needs more powers, then the Commission should make legislative proposals to get them, urgently. And remember: you can sign the open Internet petition for Europe, and feel free to talk to your parliamentarians and write to your regulators to protect Your Internet.

Skype and other VoIP applications will undoubtedly help fill the millions around the World fix poor in-building cell phone reception and communicate globally.


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