It’s been a long way since the European Commission under Vice-President Neelie Kroes started developing a European law on Net Neutrality as part of the Telecom Single Market concept in early 2013. It took over two years of intensive political debate, drafting and negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament and Member States to finally sing off the Regulation last September. This Regulation, directly applicable in all Member States, laid down measures concerning open internet access; these measures are the so-called Net Neutrality Regulation.
However, this Net Neutrality Regulation had yet to be further specified through the implementation guidelines to be established by BEREC. This week, on August 30th 2016, following an open consultation process in which almost half a million contributions where received, BEREC has released these Net Neutrality implementation guidelines. BEREC itself has qualified this work as its most relevant exercise up to date.
Telefónica was an active participant in all debates right from the start, with the aim of guaranteeing an open Internet and preserving innovation. We welcome BEREC’s approach to conduct an open consultation as we believe that it has increased transparency and engagement for many stakeholder and has led to the introduction of clarifications in the final Guidelines. It has also improved them, for example by leaving competition and markets to develop in this fast-changing environment by not requiring ex-ante permission to innovate on commercial practices, traffic management or on new services in Europe. This clear commitment by BEREC not to restrict innovation should also inspire National Regulators Agencies when they enforce finally the Regulation. It is of utmost importance that important strategic projects for the European Union and its citizens, like the next generation of 5G Internet connectivity, will not be infringed and hindered as they improve consumer welfare, Europe's competitiveness and economic growth. Likewise, other innovative approaches not yet foreseen today by lawmakers and regulators, will need to be assessed in light of the impact they have on consumer choice, fair competition and markets.
As European Internet access national markets differ in many regards, from technology to geography to development, it will need to be seen how a harmonized implementation of the European Net Neutrality guidelines by National Regulators can be achieved.
Finally, as we remarked in our previous post “BEREC needs to foster innovation for an Open Internet” the Internet experience of European consumers does not end with them accessing the Internet; it merely starts there. Preserving consumer choice, fair competition and non-discrimination is important on all parts of the digital experience of consumers. Here, the debate is open and the Net Neutrality Law will surely have its impact as well.
Overall, Regulators will need to balance all important issues at stake: Let’s be optimistic and hope that the Net Neutrality implementation guidelines will not only contribute to preserve the ability of Internet users to access information, content and applications of their choice but also allow the development of a vibrant, innovative environment for products and services which will be needed to ensure Europe’s competitiveness and leadership in the global digital world.
European citizens deserve nothing less than that.