Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down
measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to
achieve a Connected Continent
The importance of net neutrality for the press sector in Europe
Today the European press sector, a majority of which is small and medium sized companies, is increasingly technologically neutral and reaches millions of readers via the internet. The neutrality of the Internet and non-discrimination based on source, destination or application is one of the most important conditions to ensure equal opportunities for all publications to reach their readers, regardless of their size or financial capacity.
The implications of the Commission proposal
While we appreciate point 80 referring to freedom of expression and non-discrimination, we are extremely worried about the detrimental aspects of two articles of the proposal to net neutrality and the availability of press content online. Articles 19 ‘assured service quality (ASQ) connectivity product’ and article 23 ‘freedom to provide and avail of open internet access and reasonable traffic management’ risk abolishing the principle of net neutrality and introducing dangerous limitations to access certain types of services. Art. 19 para 2 and 3 would oblige network operators to provide a European ASQ connectivity product, even if some operators would prefer to provide their sub networks in a neutral way. This would be a radical departure from the way the internet has operated so far. At the moment the competition between the different network operators contributes to safeguard net neutrality. This provision would enforce interferences with net neutrality via the network of an operator. Against this background, ENPA and EMMA call for the deletion of Art. 19§2 and §3.
Art. 23 would legalise agreements between providers of content, applications and services and providers of electronic communications to privilege the transmission of certain types of content by providing a so-called specialised service. The provision of such specialised services raises various concerns. It poses in particular the threat to interfere with the quality of the best-effort Internet or to prevent its continuing development. This threat is further underlined by the provision in Art. 23 para 2 that such services shall only “not impair in a recurring or continuous manner the general quality of internet access services”. ENPA and EMMA call for the deletion of this wording from Article 23§2.
If the provision of such services shall indeed not hamper the free and open internet the reservation “in a recurring or continuous manner” has to be deleted. Furthermore, we believe it would be necessary to add that the provision of such services must also not interfere with the existing technical standards, transmission rates as well as further development of Internet access services. It is also noticeable that ‘net neutrality’ as such is not defined in the text which leaves a large margin for interpretation and room for diverging concepts.
Finally, Article 23 para 5 point c) would enable internet access providers to prevent the transmission of “unsolicited communications’’ to end-users. These “unsolicited communications” are not defined, what would give ISPs the possibility to introduce restrictions of access to certain types of content, including press articles and advertising, in case the end-users have given their prior consent to these restrictions. We think that this is a highly problematic provision as ISPs would be free to introduce strict content filters and would have full control over the services available to end-users. Moreover, these
restrictions could potentially have dramatic effects on the financing of Internet content if for instance advertising was to be cut off. It is of utmost importance to ensure a fair digital environment in which media businesses can reach their audience without being discriminated by traffic management measures. In addition, these traffic management measures might be used at the detriment of consumers if their access to certain contents was limited to favour specialised services, if it was not differentiated between the various users of a same Internet line or if it was made difficult for consumers to have a control over the content they want access to. Against this background, we believe that it would be very dangerous to keep this provision and call for a deletion of article 23 article 5 point c),
Threats of the abolishment of net neutrality for press publishers:
Detrimental to innovation:
The immense majority of successful companies we know today on the Internet started small one day. New concepts, disruptive innovations, original ideas, and products for niche markets need time, quality and visibility to become successful. The advantage of the open Internet is that it gives everyone, be it a single user, an SME or an international company, equal opportunity to reach Internet users with the same quality of service. Introducing deals for specialised services as suggested in articles 19 and 23 would represent a major barrier to enter the market. Not everyone would be in a position to negotiate such a deal, and the position of the powerful brands would be reinforced while new entrants would be impaired to prove the attractiveness of their products.
Detrimental to competition:
The differentiation of treatment of certain types of content and services would seriously undermine fair competition between application/content providers. Moreover, it would be problematic as some Internet access providers also own services with which they could trike a deal. They would not be neutral in deciding the terms of agreement and it brings the risk that it would offer a preferential treatment to these services over the ones of competitors. Transparency about the content of the deal would in this case not be sufficient to solve the issue.
Detrimental to press diversity and democracy:
More than 95% of publishing companies in Europe are medium sized enterprises. It goes without saying that only a very few of them would be in a position to make deals with Internet ervice providers to offer specialised services to an ensured quality of service to Internet users. SME publishers publishing smaller titles, non-mainstream magazines, niche publications or specialised titles would not have the same chance to reach readers with the ame quality of service (i.e. navigation speed between the articles, streaming of the videos etc.) as larger internet players. This will heavily damage the take-off of new titles and ervices and the quality of service of these publishers, and impact ultimately press diversity in Europe.
Proposal for changes:
We believe that any European legislation affecting net neutrality should aim at reinforcing and guaranteeing this key principle for an open, competitive, diverse and innovative Internet.
We are of the view that the current proposal and especially articles 19 and 23 on the contrary would abolish net neutrality as they could result in content discrimination and in prioritisation of traffic for the content and service providers that pay more.
To ensure equal access of users to all different types of content available online, we trongly believe that article 19§2 and 3 should be deleted, article 23§2 changed as explained in detail above, that the status quo of the free and open internet that we have today should be maintained and that the continuous evolution of the best-effort internet enabled. Finally, Article 23 para 5 c) should be deleted to prevent dangerous limitations of access to certain contents and services.
This would enable to maintain the free, independent, diverse and vibrant digital press that we know today.
Amandine Labé European Affairs Manager Amandine.firstname.lastname@example.org +32 2 536 06 08
Sophie Scrive Deputy Executive Director Sophie.email@example.com +32 2 551 01 97