BEREC publishes guidelines for EU regulations on net neutrality

23 September 2016 | James Pearce


European regulators received almost a half a million responses to its consultation on net neutrality before publishing its guidelines for a free internet in August to a mixed reaction.

A total of 481,547 people responded to the European Union (EU) guidelines on net neutrality in a six-week consultation.

Free internet campaigners praised the guidelines. “Together, we sent a loud, clear message to BEREC, the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications: protect net neutrality.

“And it worked! BEREC’s final guidelines, which were published on 30 August 2016, offer some of the strongest net neutrality protections we could wish for. So long as these new rules are properly enforced by national telecom regulators, they represent a resounding victory for net neutrality.”

The 45-page BEREC document advises the EU’s 28 national regulatory authorities(NRAs) how to enforce laws governing net neutrality adopted across the EU in November last year.

It said that service providers will be able to provide so-called specialised services over dedicated network capacity if it is “objectively necessary” and does not negatively impact the wider internet.

Some “specialised services” which require sufficient bandwidth and cannot slow down standard services, could be exempt from the rules, which aim to promote the equality of all internet services. These include voice over LTE, broadcast IPTV and real-time health services; 5G services that use network slicing was also added to this list.

Matthew Evans, CEO of the UK’s Broadband Stakeholder Group, the UK government’s advisory forum on broadband, said: “The BEREC guidelines do not impinge on the UK’s approach to the open internet, indeed they build on the principles that we put into practice.”

Kester Mann, an analyst with CSS Insight, echoed this, but he claimed the guidance could be a blow for larger operators looking at new opportunities to improve revenues by prioritising services or data.

“Now, they [larger operators] will be barred from receiving extra payment from apps and on-line services to guarantee greater quality of delivery,” Mann said.

“Indeed, it will further fan the flames of protestations that European telecoms regulation is too harsh, hinders growth and discourages investment.”

A number of industry figures warned NRAs to make sure that putting the regulations in to place did not harm innovation within the telecoms market.

Lise Fuhr, director general of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), said in a statement: “Telecoms innovation empowers consumers and businesses. Let’s make sure the implementation of net neutrality rules does not hamper new applications and services.”

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) praised BEREC for not implementing a complete ban of traffic management and zero-rating, but called the guidelines “unnecessarily prescriptive”.

Telecom policy analyst Doug Brake added: “It is good news that BEREC stopped short of categorical bans on offerings like prioritisation of traffic, zero-rating, and specialised services.  

“But beyond that, the guidelines set detailed restrictions on each of these practices that will likely diminish pro-competitive, pro-consumer broadband-based offerings. We hope the continued success of zero-rating and specialised services sees an easing of these restrictions over time at the nation-state level.”

With the actual implementation of the rules set to be overseen at a regional level, a number of critics, including Mann, questioned what this means for the UK market in light of Brexit.

Ofcom told Capacity that it will “monitor compliance with the new rules, and look into any complaints received. We will consider any potential breaches as they arise in accordance with our interpretation of the regulation, and drawing upon the BEREC guidelines to inform our approach.”

The guidance also dictated that traffic and network management can only be used as an argument against net neutrality “under limited circumstances”. Any throttling and traffic management that  slows down services is banned.