EU Internet survey finds widespread blocking, fueling net neutrality issue

The proposed law will not rectify the problem, say digital rights advocates

A European Commission survey of 28,000 Internet users found that a quarter reported content blocking, the Commission revealed Thursday.

The survey found that 41 percent experience problems watching video on a mobile device and 37 percent on a fixed Internet connection. Other services with which users experienced problems include music streaming, playing online games and voice over IP.

The news comes as the debate over a new E.U. "net neutrality" law continues.

"When you buy an internet subscription you should get access to all content. That is what the open Internet should be, and all Europeans should have access to it," said Digital Agenda Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, in a statement on Thursday. She believes that her proposals for the Telecoms Regulation will guarantee an open Internet.

However digital rights activists have argued that the proposed new law does exactly the opposite. "At the same time as proposing text which will undermine net neutrality in Europe, Commissioner Kroes is energetically claiming that she supports it. Anyone not familiar with the file would be mistaken for believing her," said Joe McNamee from EDRi (a European digital rights group).

He said that the Commission has cynically added a populist element to the regulation, promising the eventual removal of mobile roaming charges. "Given the timing, just weeks before the elections, members of the European Parliament could be persuaded to support the package for short-term political benefit," he said.

Kroes argues that her goal is "to protect consumers by giving them new rights and transparency regarding their internet connection."

The survey also found that 60 percent of respondents had no idea what Internet speeds they were paying for. Of the remainder who know what speeds they should be getting, 26 percent said that they do not get a speed that matches the terms of their contract.

The proposed law will allow consumers to agree to different price plans for different Internet speeds while explicitly banning blocking and throttling. However net neutrality advocates have said that Article 23 of the law, which allows "specialised services with a defined quality of service or dedicated capacity" leaves the door open for a two-tier Internet.

"Hindrances to the open Internet, which are likely if specialized services take up too much bandwidth, will impact European citizens' and businesses' ability to access the Internet content and services of their choice, will restrict competition, reduce productivity and limit innovation in the economy at large," said Computer and Communications Industry Association vice president James Waterworth.

"None of the leading parliamentarians working on the dossier have been able to grasp the duplicity of this text," warned McNamee.

Four out of five parliamentary committees that can make amendments to the text of the law have already voted. But a delay over translation of the document meant that a key vote in the leading Industry Committee was postponed on Monday.

A draft of the law prepared for the Industry Committee includes provisions that would empower telecommunications companies to engage in discriminatory practices online, claimed Access, an international organization dedicated to Internet issues.

Currently the only E.U. countries with laws on net neutrality are the Netherlands and Slovenia. The regulation is expected to be voted in the Parliament's Industry Committee in coming weeks. It must then go before the whole of the Parliament for a final vote before agreements can be reached with member states.

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

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