Net Neutrality Laws in the Netherlands Offer Glimpse of What Awaits U.S. ; as with New F.C.C. Rules, Dutch Insist All Internet Traffic Be Treated Equally

By Scott, Mark | International New York Times, February 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Net Neutrality Laws in the Netherlands Offer Glimpse of What Awaits U.S. ; as with New F.C.C. Rules, Dutch Insist All Internet Traffic Be Treated Equally


Scott, Mark, International New York Times


As with the F.C.C. plan, rules in the Netherlands demand that wireless and fixed-line broadband providers treat all Internet traffic equally.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Martijn van Dam has heard all the arguments against net neutrality.

As the Dutch politician who helped draft the so-called open Internet rules that the Netherlands adopted in 2011 -- the second country in the world to do so after Chile -- Mr. van Dam remembers telecom lobbyists warning that consumer prices for cellphone contracts would rise and that carriers' investments in high-speed mobile and broadband networks would stall.

"But of course, prices didn't go up," Mr. van Dam, the 37-year- old deputy leader of the Dutch Labor Party, said with a laugh in his corner office here near the Dutch Parliament building. "Our experience in the Netherlands shows that it's nonsense to say that companies won't invest."

With the Federal Communications Commission in the United States on Thursday approving public-utility-style rules meant to ensure fair access and pricing for information transmitted over the Internet, the Dutch net neutrality laws might offer a glimpse into what awaits United States consumers and the country's largest telecom providers like AT&T and Comcast.

For sure, there are important differences between the Dutch and American contexts. Most notably, the Netherlands, with a population of about 17 million, is geographically about the size of Maryland, making it easier and cheaper for operators to provide high-speed Internet access compared with carriers trying to serve all of the 50 United States. The Dutch rules also allow for some premium deals between operators and Internet services like Netflix, the online movie-streaming company; such premium deals are supposed to be tightly restricted under the new F.C.C. regulations.

But the similarities could be instructive. As with the F.C.C.'s plan, the Dutch rules, which went into effect in 2013, demand that wireless and fixed-line broadband providers treat all Internet traffic equally -- with a few exceptions aimed at letting companies most efficiently manage their networks.

That means carriers cannot discriminate among types of content, or charge extra for faster speeds and more reliable connections to the Internet's pipelines, which have become the vital arteries for online services like streaming music, on-demand television and cloud computing.

And as in the United States, the Dutch net neutrality laws fueled a heated debate over how people gain access to -- and pay for -- Internet services.

Local telecom providers, including the country's former monopoly KPN, had wanted to charge Internet and media companies like Google and Netflix for premium access to their networks. Companies warned that the price of consumers' monthly contracts would have to rise if they could not levy extra fees for data-hungry services like online movie streaming -- or for things like WhatsApp, the Internet messaging application now owned by Facebook, that had eaten into operators' revenues.

But campaigners warned that such deals would potentially limit what content could be used online, giving carriers and broadband companies too much control over how people surfed the Web.

"There was a lot of pressure to pass these rules," said Nico van Eijk, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, who specializes in telecom and media law. "People didn't want to be told which online services they could and couldn't use."

The European Union also is currently working on its own rules that closely mirror those already in place in the Netherlands. But industry groups representing telecom companies have tried to water down the proposals so that companies can still charge for higher- speed access to networks, as long as regular Internet users are not affected.

In contrast to the F.C.C.'s new rules, the Netherlands does not police how telecom operators handle online data in the so-called interconnect market -- the nodes on the network where traffic is managed before it enters people's homes. …

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