June 13, 2012 By Indrajit Basu
Adhering to its reputation of being on the cutting edge of new concepts in regard to technology, the Netherlands proved yet again that it can beat the world in ensuring personal freedom for its citizens.
In early May, the Netherlands adopted a net neutrality concept when its parliament passed new legislation that safeguards an open and secure Internet in the country. With this move Netherlands not only became the first nation in Europe to implement net neutrality, it also becomes the first to arm its laws with provisions for protecting users against disconnection and wiretapping by service providers.
The net neutrality law prohibits Internet providers from interfering with the traffic of their users. The law, though, allows for traffic management in the case of congestion and for the purpose of network security — as long as these measures serve the interests of the Internet user.
In addition, the law includes an anti-wiretapping provision, restricting Internet providers from using invasive wiretapping technologies, such as deep packet inspection (DPI). That’s only allowed under limited circumstances, or with explicit consent of the user, which the user may withdraw at any time. The law, however, allows for wiretapping with a warrant.
The Netherlands joins Chile as the second country in the world that has firm net neutrality laws. Other countries are still debating the topic.
According to Bits of Freedom, a Dutch watchdog group that focuses on citizens’ digital rights, even as the U.S. is still struggling to adopt Net neutrality, “it is heartening to note that Europe at least is forging ahead”.
“We believe that the new net neutrality law in the Netherlands gives a strong signal to not the rest of Europe, but also the U.S. — indicating that net neutrality is beneficial to end-users as well as developers of innovative services,” said Janneke Slöetjes, digital rights expert at Bits of Freedom.
“It guarantees that innovation will reach end-users and will not run the risk of being excluded, blocked or excessively charged. This will have a positive impact on marketing of new online services. Also, Internet users will be ensured easy access to the entire Internet when they take out a fixed or mobile subscription, and not just the parts or the services a specific provider has in mind.”
According to D.J. Pangburn, another freedom of speech proponent, “After net neutrality was neutered here in America, it’s been a pleasure to see the Dutch getting it right by passing solid net neutrality legislation. It’s Internet freedom the way it was meant to be: cleansed of corporate influence; the point being that an ISP can’t have a tiered service where large corporations have faster service than Dutch citizens.”
Whereas the Netherlands seems to have it figured out, net neutrality in the U.S. is turning into a messy issue.
The widespread grievance cited by net neutrality proponents is that ISPs in the U.S. still have too much influence and are given much more credence then they should get.
For instance, in the first formal complaint since the FCC passed net neutrality rules in December 2010, it was revealed last month a Florida VoIP carrier filed a net neutrality complaint against a Georgia utility and broadband provider, after the utility accused the VoIP firm of theft of service for using the broadband carrier’s network to deliver voice service without paying for it.
While utility has demanded that L2Network should be paying for access to its fiber-optic network, the VoIP provider contends that such a demand violates the FCC's net neutrality guidelines. If the FCC allows Albany Water's attempt to collect payment from L2Networks, L2Networks said other broadband network operators may be emboldened to seek money from popular Web-based services such as Google, Facebook and Netflix.
The case could lead to an "irreversible ripple effect along with the creation of various legal challenges across nearly every national content and application provider," L2Networks CEO Kraig Beahn said in a press release. "We are deeply concerned that the alleged claim could potentially change the landscape of the national Internet marketplace as residential and commercial consumers see it today."
"The real issue is the possibility that nearly any ISP can file a theft-of-service complaint if they feel another competitive application service provider intrudes upon their territory or simply wishes to remove such competition from the local marketplace," Beahn added.
According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S.’s main problems regarding adoption of net neutrality stems from the fact that translating FCC’s three network neutrality principles —transparency, no blocking, and no unreasonable discrimination — is proving to be challenging within the rapidly evolving Internet.
“The FCC encourages the industry to follow these principles while inviting potential aggrieved parties to file complaints, allowing a ‘case law’ to develop that will inform more detailed regulations in the future. These rules are already being challenged in the courts (by Verizon and other service providers) on the argument that market forces are working fine on the Internet: There is no need for more regulation since existing anti- trust laws provide sufficient protections,” said Beñat Bilbao-Osorio, a World Economic Forum expert.
According to Bits of Freedom adviser Janneke Slöetjes, as most nations (including the U.S.) dither on whether to turn the concept of net neutrality into a law, the Netherlands example will at least help to prove, “that net neutrality can only be enforced in practice if it is a clearly formulated law that applies to all providers of Internet access and contains limited exceptions for limited purposes only. Also, enforcement powers must be in place.”
However, the World Economic Forum suggests a more lenient stance. The organization says, “while assessing the status of regulations in the United States, one should keep in mind that the country has two competing fixed-infrastructure operators and the U.S. regulatory authorities relieved network operators of the obligation to unbundle their networks. Together these give some immunity to operators, especially to fixed-line players, against the potential side effects of network neutrality regulation.”