Findings from BEREC’s and the European Commission’s joint investigation
Commissioner Neelie Kroes:
BEREC has today provided the data I was waiting for. For most Europeans, their Internet access works well most of the time. But these findings show the need for more regulatory certainty and that there are enough problems to warrant strong and targeted action to safeguard consumers.
For the first time we know that at least 20%, and potentially up to half of EU mobile broadband users have contracts that allow their Internet service provider (ISP) to restrict services like VOIP (e.g. Skype) or peer-to-peer file sharing.
Around 20% of fixed operators (spread across virtually all EU member states) apply restrictions such as to limit peer-to-peer volumes at peak times. This can affect up to 95% of users in a country.
At the same time, in nearly all Member States, most if not all ISPs offer fixed and mobile Internet access services that are not subject to such restrictions. According to the BEREC figures 85% of all fixed ISPs and 76% of all mobile ISPs propose at least one unrestricted offer. So the market is generally providing choice, but in some countries the choices are quite limited in some EU countries.
But are customers really empowered to choose well? Do they realise what they are signing up for? I didn’t read all the pages in my mobile contract and I bet you didn’t either! I believe we all need more transparent information.
Given that BEREC’s findings highlight a problem of effective consumer choice, I will prepare recommendations to generate more real choices and end the net neutrality waiting game in Europe.
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.
Study: A view of traffic management and other practices resulting in restrictions to the open Internet in Europe