Smartphones, tablets, voice assistants - Devices: weak link in achieving open internet access - Arcep report and suggested courses of action to guarantee an open internet, end to end
Feb 15, 2018
Paris, 15 February 2018
The European Open Internet regulation of 2015 enshrines the principle of open internet access, and gives Arcep and its European counterparts the task of enforcing net neutrality. As provided for by the Regulation, vigilance is called for on the portion of the networks controlled by internet service providers (ISP).
But the internet access chain does not stop at access networks, and other intermediaries have the power to hamper users' ability to access the online content and services of their choice. This is true of devices (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.), their operating systems and their app stores that are controlled by a small number of economic actors.
Today, Arcep is publishing a complete report on this subject, handed this morning to Mounir Mahjoubi, Secretary of State in charge of the digital, and is presenting its conclusions at an event at Pan Piper, punctuated by debates with stakeholders (see the programme).
Arcep's call to action to public policymakers: devices provide users with only limited internet access
Now that most users access the internet through their smartphone, which is sold with its own operating system and app store, little by little users' freedom of choice is being reduced by the restrictions these devices impose. Some of these restrictions may be warranted for reasons of design, security or innovation. Others artificially restrict internet access and the array of content and services available to users. The transition towards ever smarter devices - smart speakers at home, on-board computers in cars, connected products - raises concerns of ever increasing restrictions, within environments that are not always compatible with each other. But the issues created by the smartphone economy are already significant, and warrant appropriate solutions. Equally worthy of attention are the restrictions and impediments these environments create for content and app developers.
Courses of action to give users back their freedom of choice
In its report, Arcep sets out a series of proposals for guaranteeing an open internet, in other words for giving users back their freedom of choice. These courses of action follow five main avenues:
- Clarify the scope of the open internet by enshrining the principle of users' freedom to choose their content and applications, regardless of the device;
- Employ data-driven regulation and provide users, both consumers and businesses, with information that is both transparent and comparable;
- Increase market liquidity, and the freedom to switch from one environment to another;
- Lift certain restrictions that leading device market stakeholders impose artificially on users, and on content and service developers;
- Take swift action, thanks to an agile procedure for supporting businesses, and particularly SMEs and start-ups, when they encounter questionable practices.
Arcep plans on doing its part by proposing pragmatic and quick impact courses of action that it recommends be put into effect immediately at the national level, with the goal of stimulating actions at the European level. It is also participating in the work being done by BEREC, which will be publishing a report in the coming weeks on the impact that content and devices have on the functioning of the telecoms market.
A key step in a lengthy process
Identified in January 2016 as one of Arcep's 12 priorities during its strategic review, the device issue has been the focus of a period of investigation, led by a dedicated team.
Following a series of meetings with stakeholders (developers, equipment suppliers, users, etc.), in May 2017 Arcep published its initial diagnosis of the influence that terminal equipment can have on users' ability to access the internet and its full array of content. In autumn 2017, Arcep hosted a series of dedicated workshops to take a more detailed look at the following topics:
- "Let's design the ideal app store!" - 9 October 2017 at Numa
- "Back to the future! Let's design tomorrow's devices, in light of past successes and failures" - 13 November 2017 at Tank
- "Are we being held hostage by our operating systems? A round-up of available solutions" - 24 November 2017 at Cap Digital
In December 2017, a public consultation enabled Arcep to gather feedback from stakeholders, and to test its initial suggestions for future courses of action.
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