EU to investigate traffic throttling and blocking allegations against telcos

The European Commission on Tuesday launched an investigation into telecoms providers’ traffic management and competition practices. Responding to allegations that some service providers were effectively blocking over-the-top (OTT) VoIP services such as Skype, telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes has asked members to probe fixed and wireless operators for evidence of anti-competitive behaviour.

According to a statement from the commission, The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) will “undertake a rigorous fact-finding exercise on issues crucial to ensuring a neutral internet, including barriers to changing operators, blocking or throttling internet traffic, transparency and quality of service.”

Commissioner Kroes said that while there was as yet no evidence to conclude that “these concerns are justified at this stage,” a more “exhaustive fact-finding exercise” was necessary to clear the air. “I am absolutely determined that everyone in the EU should have the chance to enjoy the benefits of an open and lawful internet, without hidden restrictions or slower speeds than they have been promised,” she said.

The findings will be published by the end of this year and Kroes said that the commission intended to “publicly name operators engaging in doubtful practices.” While the commission accepts that traffic management is vital to good network congestion management, it has said it wants to ensure that operators aren’t using it as a ploy to throttle or degrade competitor services. Last year, a public consultation process found that operators in six EU countries were blocking or charging extra to use Skype. Kroes said that “one UK operator” was said to be making Skype calls effectively impossible at certain times of the day while others were degrading the quality of content provided by competitors. “It is not okay for Skype and other such services to be throttled,” she said. “That is anti-competitive, it is not okay for to rip off consumers on connection speeds.”

Kroes said that she hoped any name-and-shame list produced at the end of the year “will be a very short list,” adding that “If I am not satisfied, I will not hesitate to come up with more stringent measures…to achieve the competition and choice consumers deserve. If this proves to be insufficient, I am ready to prohibit the blocking of lawful services or applications.”

EU regulations designed to enforce the principle of an open internet come into force on May 25 this year.

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  1. Avatar Brian Wood 21/04/2011 @ 10:11 am

    It is important that every telecommunications carrier retains the ability to manage its network traffic and the quality of service / experience delivered to each paying user. Due to the inherent limitations of wireless spectrum, wireless carriers necessarily operate with different capacity realities than wireline carriers and thus a “one-size-fits-all” regulatory approach is not the most optimal one.

    Furthermore, with mobile data traffic growing faster than fixed line traffic – with commensurate innovation and competition in wireless applications and end-user devices – wireless operators need the most flexibility to employ tools and technologies to manage their resources.

    My hope is that the professionals at BEREC and the European Commission recognize the key differences between wireless and wireline operators, and formulate the regulations accordingly.

  2. Avatar Opus Telecom Guy 27/04/2011 @ 2:29 pm

    I can see where a fair usage policy could need to be enforced, even though VoIP is fairly low on data usage, it will add up.

    That said, it is pulling people away from the way mobile phone companies make their money ~ minutes. This might even cause some changes in the way we see mobile price plans, it really depends on how much VoIP over mobile phones catches on.

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