Commission maintains its softly, softly approach on net neutrality (whilst carrying big stick)

Net neutrality. A topic that stirs strong emotion and strident commentary that sometimes bears little resemblance to the underlying issues.

The European Commission today published a remarkably thoughtful, balanced and considered Communication on the open internet and net neutrality in Europe.

It concludes that the current rules on transparency, switching and quality of service that form part of the revised electronic communications framework should produce competitive outcomes and that as the package is still being implemented it is too early to introduce additional measures.

However, the Commission:

  1. will work with the European national regulators’ collective body – BEREC – to explore potential issues including barriers to switching, practices of blocking, throttling or equivalent effect, transparency and quality of service and will publish a report by the end of 2012 any evidence uncovered;
  2. reserves its right to take action under the general competition rules (arts 101 and 102 TFEU) should that be needed;
  3. if required, issue additional guidance;
  4. if guidance is not sufficient, consider what additional legislative or other measures may be needed – focussing particularly on switching and transparency; and
  5. continue to work with member states on stimulation of broadband roll-out.

The relative calmness of the debate compared with the political polarisation in the US is striking. However, whilst the Commission is currently taking it easy, it is also signalling that it is prepared to use competition rules or introduce new laws should that be needed.