EU may ban ISPs from throttling, blocking sites as net neutrality talks underway

By on June 4, 2013, 4:30 PM

In a move to bolster net neutrality across Europe, EU officials are discussing plans which would prohibit ISPs from blocking or throttling online sites and services. Currently, the Netherlands is one of the few areas to implement their own strict net neutrality policies; the vast majority of EU countries do not.

In speech addressed to the European parliament in Brussels, the European Commission's Digital Agenda VP Neelie Kroes argued that "some ISPs deliberately degrade" and even outright block network services like Skype and Whatsapp for anti-competitive reasons. Kroes is looking to regulators to craft policies which curb these dubious practices without stifling competition and innovation but meanwhile encouraging transparency and consumer choice.

"But equally it's clear to me that many Europeans expect protection against such commercial tactics. And that is exactly the EU safeguard we will be providing. A safeguard for every European, on every device, on every network: a guarantee of access to the full and open internet, without any blocking or throttling of competing services." 

Source: EC Digital Agenda VP Neelie Kroes

ISPs often argue a legitimate need to prioritize certain types of network traffic over others, a practice which is often referred to as traffic shaping. Analyzing data packets to judge their network importance and prioritizing them accordingly is a useful tool for halting service-crippling DDoS attacks and ensuring latency-sensitive services like Vo-IP operate smoothly. 

If all goes well and Kroes' recommendations take wing with EU lawmakers, a set of fully fleshed-out regulations still may not be in place across EU member states until 2015.

Net neutrality and what it should mean precisely has remained a contentious issue since Comcast was accused of throttling P2P network traffic in 2007. In the U.S, the FCC released a set of guidelines in 2010 in an effort to promote net neutrality, but a federal court ruled that the FCC did not have the power to enforce such rules.

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