EU digital rights groups demand net neutrality protection

Digital rights groups say the European Commission must act to protect net neutrality

More than 80 European digital rights organizations on Wednesday called on the European Commission to do more to protect net neutrality.

The groups, represented by The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) and European Digital Rights (EDRi), are demanding an end to "dangerous experimentation with the functioning of the Internet in Europe."

The group said in an open letter to the Commission that operators across Europe are violating Internet neutrality particularly in the mobile sector, where they say there is evidence that companies including ISPs are "using technical measures for their own commercial interests and tampering with citizens' ability to access the Internet."

"The experimentation by certain European access providers with blocking, filtering and throttling of services creates borders in an online world whose key value is the absence of borders," said Joe McNamee, Executive Director of EDRi, in a statement demanding that the European Commission put a stop to it.

BEUC and EDRi fear that the upcoming non-binding recommendations on net neutrality from the Commission will be based on what the deem to be meaningless safeguards, such as the possibility to switch operators and an obligation for each operator to have at least one full Internet offer.

Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has been a vocal advocate of net neutrality, saying consumers should be free to make their own choices about their Internet subscription and online activity, but that this "does not preclude consumers from subscribing to more differentiated, limited Internet offers, possibly for a lower price."

Digital rights organization La Quadrature du Net claimed in January that Kroes had caved in to telecom operator pressure and was giving up on net neutrality. She replied that she would not be bullied by NGOs or lobbyists.

"Make no mistake: I am in favor of an open Internet and maximum choice. That must be protected. But you don't need me or the E.U. telling you what sort of Internet services you must pay for," said Kroes.

The Commissioner has initiated many consultations on net neutrality, and has asked European national legislators and regulators to wait for better evidence before regulating on a country by country basis. However both The Netherlands and Slovenia, reluctant to wait, have already introduced legal protection for net neutrality.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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