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By: MarkJ - 12 November, 2010 (7:38 AM)
europe mapThe European Commission (EC), fresh from finding a "near consensus" on the importance of "preserving an open internet" (Net Neutrality) earlier in the week (here), has told consumers that the best way to make sure that Mobile Broadband operators and ISPs continue to treat all internet traffic as equal is for them to change provider when a service is blocked.

The EC's Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, said at yesterdays EU Summit:

"In general, providers have upheld the principle of open access – end users may access most of the applications and services of their choice. However, blocking and "throttling" of sites and applications or applying differentiated end-user data charges for certain applications continues to a certain extent.

This clearly creates a problem if consumers are not duly informed and do not have the possibility to easily switch to alternative providers which do not undertake such practices. Blocking of Internet telephone services i.e. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) – in particular Skype - over mobile networks is the obvious example today.

The situation has improved somewhat but the problem has by no means been fully resolved. VoIP is merely today's example. There will surely be other examples with future innovations and that is why we cannot be complacent.

But I think consumers should not underestimate their own power in shaping this situation. There were 21 million people using Skype alongside me when I called my family at the weekend. That is a huge market. And I say to those people who are currently cut off from Skype: vote with your feet and leave your mobile provider.

The message will be most powerful when it comes from both the bottom-up and the top-down."

Certainly that's true, yet Kroes appears to be missing a crucial point. Mobile and broadband ISP customers, whether in the UK or elsewhere around Europe, should not even have to be placed in a position where access to crucial websites or services, such as Skype, are restricted from practical use.

In addition Kroes said that Europe did not seek to prevent internet providers from signing new and innovative content deals, although she warned that any related Traffic Management measures, "should not become simply a means of exploiting current network constraints". Kroes hinted that any significant market abuses of this principal could result in action being taken, which might potentially include new legislative measures.

As it stands Europe has effectively adopted a similar position to the one that Ofcom is likely to take when the final conclusions from its own consultation are published in the near future. In other words, Traffic Management is fine, just so long as consumers are given "transparent" details about how it will impact their service and ISPs don't abuse it to stifle an open internet.

That sounds fair, except nobody is going to put any rules down to prevent ISPs from abusing it in the first place. Some mobile operators already block Skype, which has more to do with protecting their voice traffic than the data load it generates.
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