European regulators (Berec) confirm attention over net neutrality

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Berec, the European agency based in Riga representing the European telecom regulators, has adopted a couple of interesting documents on net neutrality, with the aim to provide a concise description of three years of BEREC’s activities in this field. Berec’s document briefly summarize how the Internet works and presents findings related to retail and wholesale relationships and observations in the context of net neutrality. Furthermore, the papers present what national regulators can do in order to promote net neutrality. More specific explanations are available in the document named “Summary of BEREC positions on net neutrality”.

Remarkably, Berec dismiss again the argument of ETNO and incumbents whereby the transportation of content and services over the/their networks would happen at free-riding conditions. It is a confirmation that the campaign launched by ETNO against OTT providers on this subject is deprived of economic and technical grounds, it is just a political game. This position of Berec echoes the document of November where it strongly criticized ETNO’s proposal for the WCIT12 (the negotiations taking place in Dubai in relation to the reform of the ITU telephony agreements, the ITRs).

I report the observations of Berec, which are self-explanatory:

While QoS differentiation may be an appropriate tool to deal with scarcity of bandwidth in access networks, e.g. by prioritising voice services, the situation is different in IP-backbone networks, where additional capacity is cheaper….

Up to now, interconnection with QoS assured across network boundaries has not, or has hardly, existed in practice. As described in BEREC’s comments to specific proposals for ITU/WCIT7, over the internet, a guaranteed end-to-end QoS offer appears neither commercially nor technically realistic. In best effort networks, alternative mechanisms for improving performance have been developed and have proven to be more efficient and cost effective, such as end-point-based congestion control for reduction of the traffic load, Internet Exchange Points and the increased use of peering as well as content delivery networks (CDNs). While QoS differentiation may be an appropriate tool to deal with scarcity of bandwidth in access networks, e.g. by prioritising voice services, the situation is different in IP-backbone networks, where additional capacity is cheaper….

At this stage it is worth noting that there is no evidence that operators’ network costs are not already fully covered and paid for in the Internet value chain, unlike what is sometimes alleged by some ISPs in the net neutrality debate. Both sides of the market, content and application providers (CAPs) on the one hand, and users of applications on the other, contribute to paying for Internet connectivity (and hosting). CAPs also pay for CDN services that bring their content closer to the end user….

BEREC proposes to evaluate the ‘reasonableness’ of traffic management practices and contractual restrictions by applying the following assessment criteria:

(i) Non-discrimination between players. The practice is done on a nondiscriminatory basis among all CAPs.
(ii) End-user control. It is an important indicator of reasonableness when the practice is applied on the request of users at the edge, who can control and deactivate it. The level of control is deemed higher when the user does not incur costs for removing a restriction.
(iii) Efficiency and proportionality. The measures should be limited to what is necessary to fulfil the objective, in order to minimise possible side effects. The intensity of the practice, such as frequency and reach, is also important when assessing its impact.
(iv) Application agnosticism. As long they are able to achieve a similar effect, BEREC expresses a general preference for ‘application-agnostic‘ practices. This reflects the fact that the decoupling of the network and application layers is a characteristic feature of the open Internet, and has enabled innovation and growth….

Competition plays a vital role in guaranteeing net neutrality: the greater the pressure created by competition, the higher the quality of access products and the less incentive an ISP will have to diminish the quality of its own services. Competition is expected to discipline operators and result in the best offers for end users.
In accordance with the European framework, NRAs have a duty to stimulate competitive dynamics in the retail markets with ex-ante regulation at the wholesale level”.

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