Statement by Richard Bennett on European Approach to Net Neutrality
WASHINGTON (April 20, 2011) - "All in all, the European approach to net neutrality does the right things and refrains from doing the wrong ones. In many ways it represents a more workable approach than the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order proposed last December because it better recognizes and encourages the Internet's collaborative tradition.
The European Commission's long-awaited communication on The Open Internet and Net Neutrality in Europe does not assume the position of an omniscient regulator, nor does it try to exhaustively list all potential bad practices. It's reasonably permissive with respect to business models and not as restrictive in cases where facilities-based competition is present as when it's absent. America's Internet regulators would do well to study the communication and internalize its messages."
The European Commission's long-awaited communication on The Open Internet and Net Neutrality in Europe strikes a fair balance between informed oversight and the direct regulation of Internet services in the European Union. The EC refrains from recommending a detailed set of telecom-style regulations on Internet Service Providers, relying instead on oversight, competition and disclosure to ensure that end users are free to enjoy the benefits of network-enabled innovation in Europe.
The communication also ensures that ISPs are free to innovate with business models and management practices that enhance the Internet's utility. The Internet's traditional technology is notable, but its overall success is primarily due to committed, extensive, and ongoing collaboration among its key stakeholders. The Commission correctly recognized this and refrained from adopting the "good guys/bad guys" formulation urged by some advocates. It's a mistake to assume that the Internet is a finished system that must be managed and operated in the same way in years to come as it was in the past; network evolution and improvement are fundamental enablers of application innovation, so there must be space in the Internet's regulatory system for the freedom to improve the technology and economics of networks themselves.
The Commission refrained from the unnecessarily complex rules adopted by the FCC in its December Open Internet order. Under the FCC regime, network operator service packages that enable advanced video conferencing applications to work over conventional broadband networks are "a significant cause for concern" because they depart from historical practices. The Commission correctly discerns what's important in the net neutrality debate and what isn't: The essence of net neutrality and the issues underpinning the debate concern first and foremost how best to preserve the openness of [the Internet] platform and to ensure that it can continue to provide high-quality services to all and to allow innovation to flourish, while contributing to enjoyment of and respect for fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom to conduct business.
As the communication recognizes, this task is not accomplished by adopting the backward-looking framework that found favor with the FCC in the wireline part of its order (but not in the wireless part.) Because the EC's recommendation is not overly restrictive with respect to w