Monday, 13 June 2011

Holland about to go 'net neutral'

The Netherlands is about to pass a Bill that would guarantee its citizens net neutrality. On 24 May, the Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Maxime Verhagen, announced in the Tweede Kamer, the Dutch House of Representatives, that he would amend the Dutch Telecoms Act, as proposed by a Member of Parliament a week earlier.

Under the new Telecoms Bill, internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile phone companies would be barred from limiting heavy-bandwith applications and would not be allowed to charge users extra to use online voice applications - such as Skype or Whatsupp - which has been common practice in Holland. The Bill would also prevent ISPs or mobile operators from selectively blocking or slowing certain applications.

If the legislation passes, which is considered a formality because of the Dutch coalition government structure, the Netherlands would become the first country in Europe - and the second in the world after Chile - to arrange net neutrality by law. The concept of net neutrality means that all internet traffic should be treated equally by ISPs and telecom operators. Although the final text is still being discussed, most lawmakers have already given their support for the new Bill.

“It might prove difficult to properly scope the proposed legal ban”, said Peter Eijsvoogel, Partner at Allen & Overy. “If we call the emergency services, we do not want our lines to be blocked by teenagers calling a game show.”

The proposals “may have a significant impact on the way in which mobile operators can deal with the effects of over-the-top apps like What's App and Skype, which have been eating away their core revenues substantially”, said Quinten Kroes, Partner at Brinkhof. “Indirectly, it may impact their ability and willingness to invest in new infrastructure, like 4G.”

Minister Verhagen is in talks with the European Commission (EC) to “ensure that the amendment does not interfere with EU regulations”, said Ministry Spokesman Edwin van Scherrenburg.

Matthijs van Bergen, a legal advisor at ICT Recht thinks “it really is a shame that [the EC] has not lived up to its task to adequately implement net neutrality into the regulatory framework and to effectively harmonise Member States' laws”. Van Bergen does, however, expect other European countries to follow soon: “Politicians in Belgium are also working on a law of their own”.

Michiel Willems, 2011. Published previously in a London based magazine. Copyrights apply at all times.