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Civil Society Groups Launch Site to Track Net Neutrality Abuses by Telecom Firms

Posted: 23rd Sep, 2011 By: MarkJ
uk network cableinternet linksTwo civil society groups, La Quadrature du Net (France) and Bits of Freedom (Netherlands), have launched a new website - RespectMyNet.eu - that seeks to enable citizens to become the watchmen of the Internet by reporting any Net Neutrality (the principal of treating all internet traffic as equal) violations by mobile operators and fixed line broadband ISPs within the UK and Europe.

The aim of the site is to present EU lawmakers "with the evidence they keep denying: there is an urgent need to legislate against Net Neutrality violations", which it's claimed could harm fundamental freedoms as well as innovation and competition.

Ot van Daalen, Spokesperson for Bits of Freedom, said:

"The online freedom of every European citizen is now under attack by big telecom operators who want to control what you do online. They want to block or slow down websites and even charge extra for using cheap internet telephony services. The Netherlands should soon prohibit these unacceptable practices. But this is not enough: every European has a right to an open internet."

Jérémie Zimmermann, Spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net, added:

"European lawmakers have turned a blind eye on the issue for more than two years. EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes' report on the matter argued [3] that there was no evidence of the need for Net Neutrality regulation. Such a wait-and-see attitude is shocking considering the reality of operators' traffic management practices, and their impact on online freedoms, competition and the whole digital economy."

In fairness most ISPs employ Traffic Management or Traffic Shaping as a means to balance the performance of their networks, which allows the majority of customers to avoid being unfairly affected by a minority of heavy users. This is often done by restricting internet traffic (speed) to busy services (e.g. P2P) or more generally at peak times of day. It's also seen as being preferable to either raising prices or being more realistic about their usage allowances.

Critically some telecoms firms (e.g. BT, TalkTalk) would love to go beyond casual traffic management by favouring content providers (e.g. Google, Facebook, Skype, BBC iPlayer etc.) based on who pays them the most money (imagine hundreds of ISPs asking Skype to cough up). Many fear that this would hamper innovation, damage existing services and hinder end-user access to the content they desire; content is of course what makes the net worth using.

So far, outside of a few exceptions (e.g. some Mobile Broadband operators blocking Skype etc.), most telecoms firms have not gone over the line of acceptability. One of the reasons for that is simply because content providers have rightly refused to pay (after all, they already pay once for their own bandwidth).

Separately the UK and EU are also putting more pressure on telecoms firms to ensure that any restrictions are made clearly visible to consumers (example). On top of that the UK and EU have warned ISPs to ensure that consumers are still given access to all "legal content [and] service[s]" (here).

None of the new guidelines completely prevent ISPs from exploring new models but they do warn operators not to go too far. As a result the case for new legislation remains weak, which is one thing that RespectMyNet.eu hopes to change. At the time of writing the site doesn't appear to be very active but anything that gives consumers more of a voice is usually a good thing.
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