A few weeks ago, we talked about Dutch mobile phone carriers planning to charge for the use of different kinds of application, such as Skype, WhatsApp, and so on. They would check people’s data traffic using deep packet inspection, and charge accordingly. This led to a massive outrage here in this glorified swamp – and this outrage has had its effect.
Our parliament stood up to defend the concept of net neutrality, and as such, motioned the government to have it added to our telecommunications act. Not only will this prohibit carriers from forcing customers to pay additional fees for specific types of data, it also prohibits them from blocking certain types of traffic – something the Dutch branch of Vodafone is already doing by blocking VoIP services. This applies to regular internet service providers as well.
Our current minister of economic affairs, Maxime Verhagen, has complied, and is currently writing the actual amendment. Adding net neutrality to our telecommunications act needs to be tested against regulations from the EU. Luckily though, Neelie Kroes, European commissioner for digital agenda, is against blocking or throttling certain types of data, and has started a pan-European investigation into the matter. She plans to ‘name and shame’ those carriers that employ these tactics later this year. She even went as far as saying she might prohibit blocking and throttling altogether.
“I will specifically monitor all cases of unannounced blocking or throttling of different types of data and misleading information about internet speeds,” Kroes said, “If I am not entirely satisfied that consumers can counter this by voting with their feet and easily change providers, I will not hesitate to take swift action. If rules to encourage competition will not lead to providers offering real choice to consumers, I will be ready to ban the blocking of legitimate services.”
I have to admit that, as sceptical of politicians and governments as I am, I did not see this coming. I have to say I’m actually a little proud that the Dutch parliament has taken such a clear stance on this matter, and that net neutrality will now become an integral part of our telecommunications act. This is a great win for the free and open web, but as some have already noted in the Dutch media, a lot will depend on the actual wording of Verhagen’s proposal; if the wording is vage or ambiguous, carriers and ISPs might still be able to abuse loopholes.
In the meantime, however, the carrier that started all this, KPN, has stated it’s simply going to push forward with its plans – the law be damned. They’ll of course have to await the actual wording of Verhagen’s proposal, but for now, they see little reason to cease taking preparations to introduce the new types of contracts this summer. Vodafone, which has been blocking VoIP services since 2009 and also uses deep packet inspection, is still working on its official response. T-Mobile, the last of the three mobile carriers in The Netherlands, previously said it was thinking about following KPN and Vodafone, but has now backtracked from that, stating they have no plans.
UPDATE, June 8th 2011: The Netherlands Second Country to Codify Net Neutrality After Chile. More info and commentary at the link.