The Netherlands is to be the first European country to guarantee open and free access to the internet. Economic Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen has embraced an opposition bill about ‘net neutrality’. In future, telecom operators will no longer be allowed to charge extra for internet services like Skype and YouTube. The bill has the support of a parliamentary majority.
If the bill is adopted on Tuesday, it would mean telecom providers can't go ahead with their plans to charge users extra for services like Skype and Youtube. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services and streaming video on mobile phones would also no longer fall under existing subscription packages. Telecom providers would really prefer to go back to the old system under which their clients paid per MB.
The telecommunications industry says it really has no choice because the widespread use of free services is costing them too much. Data traffic has grown exponentially in the past few years. At the same time, telecom providers have seen revenue from telephony (both via landlines and via mobile phones) and text messaging take a nose-dive. The telecommunications industry says that unless new sources of revenue are found they will have no money to pay for the new hyper-fast 4G mobile network.
However, a majority in parliament, which has now been joined by the minister, will not stand for any infringement of net neutrality. Minister Verhagen:
“By enshrining a guaranteed open internet in law, the Netherlands shows how important we feel it is for citizens to have free access to the internet. Without interference, and primarily by deciding for oneself what information one wants to use.”
Minister Verhagen does not have the support of the coalition parties CDA (Christian democrats) and VVD (conservatives). The two parties want to postpone a decision on net neutrality, because other European countries are not yet ready to take a decision.
European Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has said she believes European rules to guarantee free access to the internet are not necessary. However, Minister Verhagen believes that introducing net neutrality legislation now will send a clear signal to other countries to follow suit.
The Dutch consumers’ interests watchdog De Consumentenbond is pleased with the preservation of an open internet. The organisation fears that additional charges for certain web services would hamper internet innovation. Skype and YouTube are examples of user-developed services.
According to a spokesperson, “Creativity would be seriously hampered if they were to be included in paid subscriptions.” And users would reportedly face a veritable jungle of subscriptions.
The telecom providers have not yet reacted to Minister Verhagen’s statements on a guaranteed open internet, but they will be sure to be following next week’s parliamentary debate intently from the public gallery.