Net neutrality wins say both sides

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Apr 3, 2014

But who knows how many reversals Neelie Kroes needs before she and her provocative spokesperson, Ryan Heath, actually admit that they haven’t quite got what they wanted out of the telecoms package which passed its first reading this morning in Brussels.

As things currently stand (the package has to get past the EU Council now) both the commission (Neelie Kroes) and the pro-neutrality spokespeople are claiming a victory for net neutrality.

In fact the first drafts of Neelie's package contained what appeared to amount to a complete carte blanche for telcos to establish specialised services and contract upstream service providers to deliver ‘better than best effort’.

As the criticsm mounted and the proposed legislation wended its way through its committee stage, amendments which constrained the use and scope of specialised services were introduced, much to the fury of ETNO, the European operators group, who will now no doubt be even more furious that Internet-busting specialised services haven’t been delivered at all… and they haven’t.

Of course the roaming enforcement sailed through, as did the net neutrality protections around blocking, throttling and discrimination. These were all agreed to be thoroughly good ideas that were probably well overdue anyway.

Trouble was these were the quid pro quo items that Neelie told the telcos they’d have to weather if they wanted the real prize - the Europe-level legislative right to offer net neutrality-busting ‘specialised services’ across their broadband links.

There can be no argument about this. We’ve been told for years that telcos want (nay need) to be able to monetise their links - jargon for use their positions as gatekeepers to extract rents and gain revenues through services that only they could offer THEIR customers. Like video.

From a telco point of view a video monopoloy was always earmarked, was always part of the long-range monetary calculation: first with video-on-demand (which failed back in the 1990s) and then on ‘mobile TV’ (which failed in the noughties and then became irrelevant because of the arrival of the smartphone).

The trouble was, as one of my inteviewees once memorably intoned, the telcos hadn’t got around to telling their shareholders.

So the expected extra services revenue hasn’t showed up and the telcos claim that without it, or something like it, they just don’t feel motivated to get up in the morning and invest in the infrastructure.

It’s a line that appeared to work a treat with Neelie Kroes who decided a political deal was needed. She’d provide the necessary trapdoors and escape hatches to enable the telcos to get greater control over access speeds and pricing and so sell their own telco services without being undercut by pesky OTTs who tend to give the services away for free. In return telcos would have to give up excessive roaming fees and sulkily blocking services they didn’t like.

At this stage, then, the foul-tasting medicine has passed but the glittering prize hasn’t. No doubt there is still time for changes to be made and internet protections to be removed, so the story probably isn’t over yet. We wait with great interest.

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