July 15, 2024

Dutch Lawmakers Adopt Net Neutrality Law

BERLIN — The Netherlands on Wednesday became the first country in Europe, and only the second in the world, to enshrine the concept of network neutrality into national law by banning its mobile operators from blocking or charging consumers extra for using Internet-based communications services like Skype or WhatsApp, a free text service.

The measure, which was adopted with a broad majority by the lower house of the Dutch Parliament, the Tweede Kamer, will prevent KPN, the Dutch market leader, and the Dutch units of Vodafone and T-mobile, from blocking or charging for Internet services. Its sponsors said that the measure would pass a legal review in the Dutch Senate without hitches.

Analysts said that the legal restrictions imposed in the Netherlands could shape Europe’s broader, evolving debate over network neutrality, pushing more countries on the Continent to limit operators from acting as self-appointed toll collectors of the mobile Internet.

“I could also see some countries following the Dutch example,” said Jacques de Greling, an analyst at Natixis, a French bank. “I believe there will be pressure from consumers to make it clear what they are buying, whether it is the full Internet or Internet-light.”

Advocates hailed the move as a victory for consumers, while industry officials predicted that mobile broadband charges could rise in the Netherlands to compensate for the new restrictions.

“We support network neutrality,” said Sandra de Jong, a spokeswoman for Consumentenbond, the largest Dutch consumer organization, based in Den Haag. “We don’t think operators should be able to restrict the Internet. That would be a bad precedent.”

Luigi Gambardella, the executive board chairman of the Brussels-based industry group, the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, warned that the Dutch legislation could deter operators from making needed investments in high-speed networks for fear of building expensive but unprofitable infrastructure.

“Any additional regulation should avoid deterring investment or innovative business models, leading to a more efficient use of the networks and to creating new business opportunities,” Mr. Gambardella said. He said operators needed the ability to charge different tariffs for different levels of service, to recoup the costs of data-intensive applications.

Operators could still offer a range of mobile data tariffs with different download speeds and levels of service, but they would not be able to tie specific rates to the use of specific free Internet services.

Under the law, Dutch operators could be fined up to 10 percent of their annual sales for violations by the national telecom regulator, OPTA.

Patrick Nickolson, a spokesman for KPN, said that the legal change could lead to higher broadband prices in the Netherlands because operators would be limited in their ability to structure differentiated data packages based on consumption.

“We regret that the Dutch parliament didn’t take more time to consider this,” Mr. Nickolson said. “This will limit our ability to develop a new portfolio of tariffs and there is at least the risk of higher prices, because our options to differentiate will now be more limited.”

Stephen Collins, the head of government and regulatory affairs at Skype in London, applauded the move by the Dutch lawmakers.

“Skype welcomes the sensible and fair approach the Dutch parliament has adopted today,” Mr. Collins said. “It sets an example for other countries in Europe and elsewhere to follow.”

Bruno Braakhuis, a Dutch legislator from Haarlem who was the original sponsor of the legislation, called the adoption a victory for Dutch consumers.

“For us, this is really a basic right. We consider network neutrality to be as important as freedom of the press, freedom of speech,” Mr. Braakhuis, a member of the Dutch Green Left Party, said.

The Dutch restrictions on operators are the first in the 27-nation European Union. The European Commission and Parliament have endorsed network neutrality guidelines but as yet have taken no legal action against operators that block or impose extra fees on consumers using services like Skype, the voice and video Internet service being acquired by Microsoft, and WhatsApp, a mobile software maker which is based in Santa Clara, California.

Sanctions may be coming, however.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/technology/23neutral.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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