Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda and Vice President of the European Commission, is an active supporter of net neutrality and all that it entails. In fact, she goes beyond the idea of an open net and in her latest blog post, discusses some concepts that some may not consider when the subject of net neutrality arises.
Not only does Kroes champion the open net aspect, she also wants to ensure customers get what they pay for in regards to Internet access. From her perspective, this goes part and parcel with an open net. Kroes also believes these service providers should be more transparent with their terms of service agreements, as opposed to offering obfuscated booklets that no one really reads to begin with.
To address the “net neutrality waiting game” that some European consumers endure, Kroes proposes a three-step approach to ensure subscribers get the service they are paying for:
First, consumers need clear information on actual, real-life broadband speeds. Not just the speed at 3 am, but the speed at peak times. The upload as well as the download speed. The minimum speed, if applicable. And the speed you’ll get when you’re also watching IPTV as part of your triple-play bundle, or downloading a video on demand via a premium “managed” service. Plus, you should know what those advertised speeds typically allow you to do online.
Second, consumers also need clear information on the limits of what they are paying for. Clear, quantified data ceilings are much better than vague “fair use” policies that leave too much discretion to Internet Service Providers (ISPs). They allow low-volume users to look for deals that suit them. And they incentivise ISPs to price data volumes in ways that reflect costs, and so support investment in modernising networks as traditional voice revenues decline.
Third, consumers also need to know if they are getting Champagne or lesser sparkling wine. If it is not full Internet, it shouldn’t be marketed as such; perhaps it shouldn’t be marketed as “Internet” at all, at least not without any upfront qualification. Regulators should have that kind of control over how ISPs market the service.
Based on her first postion alone, it’s pretty clear Kroes’ “give the consumers what they pay for” approach would go over like a bucket of dead fish with American ISPs, the same collective that loves to use the phrase “up to” when boasting about the speeds their various Internet service tiers offer. That being said, Kroes does not believe forcing ISPs to act is the way to go about ensuring good net neutrality. Instead, if there’s enough choice offered to consumers, they will be the one deciding the fates of these service providers by choosing to subscribe or move to another provider:
But I do not propose to force each and every operator to provide full Internet: it is for consumers to vote with their feet. If consumers want to obtain discounts because they only plan to use limited online services, why stand in their way? And we don’t want to create obstacles to entrepreneurs who want to provide tailored connected services or service bundles, whether it’s for social networking, music, smart grids, eHealth or whatever. But I want to be sure that these consumers are aware of what they are getting, and what they are missing.
Our guidance will make it easier to “switch” service providers, and service offers, so that you can choose the market offer that suits you best. And I will continue to monitor the market to ensure that European consumers generally have access to competitive full Internet products, fixed and mobile.
Again, this sounds like the type of enforcement companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are directly opposed to. Apparently, because they provide the service, it’s up to them to decide how the consumers are best served. In Europe, officials like Kroes would laugh at such a notion because they are bold enough to believe the consumer is entitled to the services that they paid for, not the “up to” level of service that many North American residents are used to receiving.