– On February 9th, BEUC, the European voice of consumers, sent a letter to Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, asking to protect Net Neutrality as a ‘fundamental regulatory principle’. BEUC criticizes the introduction of measures of traffic prioritization by the Norwegian telecom operator Telenor, claiming that this approach ‘raises concerns from the consumers’ point of view’. Moreover, BEUC expresses doubts about the recently adopted EU Telecom package, considered insufficient to prevent discriminatory and unfair traffic management practices, and recommends the adoption of specific rules ‘against discriminatory practices by telecom operators which jeopardize the right of consumers to have access to the information and content of their choice’.
However, the reality is more complicated than the one described by BEUC. Indeed, their approach on Net Neutrality is more likely to harm consumers, instead of protecting them. In particular, the weakest consumers (low income or located in rural areas) would suffer the most from such measures.
First of all, it should be kept in mind that network management practices are necessary to maximize the capacity utilization of the Internet and therefore the benefit for the consumers. As the traffic on the Internet is constantly growing, and some applications require more and more use of bandwidth, the capacity of the network can be considered a scarce resource. In order to take full advantage of this scarce resource, providers must assign priority to some forms of traffic.
As we wrote in a Libertiamo’s submission to the European Commission, our opposition to Net Neutrality is not an opposition to the principle of an open access to the Internet, as it represents an opportunity for everybody in the achievement of more prosperity and individual freedom. On the contrary, we deeply believe that an open Internet fuels a competitive and efficient marketplace, where consumers make the ultimate choices about which products succeed and which fail.
But imposing Net Neutrality rules to prevent traffic prioritization would increase the costs for the consumers in order to use the network. Indeed, the higher cost for a resource which is more and more scarce will be entirely passed to all the consumers, without taking into account their specific use of the network.
As a consequence, higher prices would discourage broadband demand and therefore slowdown broadband deployment, which is a key element of productivity growth in line with the objectives of the EU cohesion policy. Copenhagen Economics estimates that the effects of Net Neutrality in Germany would mean only 1.6 million new subscribers in the last years, instead of 7.5 million in the absence of Net Neutrality regulation.
Of course, unfair and discriminatory practices may exist and have to be prevented, but the most effective way is not to impose counterproductive heavy rules, as indicated by BEUC. On the contrary, the solution is to guarantee a satisfactory level of competition and transparence, in order to allow consumers to benefit of the choice they deserve. Quoting the words of Neelie Kroes during the Net Neutrality summit last November, ‘Competition is the open Internet’s best friend’.