style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Wed 26th Oct, 2011

The Netherlands is the first European country to pass legislation in favour of net neutrality. What does this mean? The consequence is that large telecommunications companies and providers of Internet services can no longer discriminate between different types of traffic on the network, for example by imposing surcharges for certain services (like Skype) and make it more difficult to navigate on certain sites (like YouTube).

Up to now only Chile adopted a similar law, with the aim of preventing the creation of a two-tier Internet service. The new Dutch law, which is now waiting to be approved in the Senate, will first of all affect the mobile sector: operators will be no longer able to block or filter traffic generated by VoIP services (eg Skype ). In short, the ultimate goal is to prohibit the payment of these applications.

The Dutch Authority Opta will monitor the proper compliance with the new legislation, punishing violations with fines of up to 10 per cent of turnover.

"Neutrality" refers to a broadband network free of restrictions on connected devices and way in which they operate. Without this legislation, the telecom companies owning cable connections, may create various levels of services, a sort of two-speed internet, selecting which services to offer or to deny and what to charge. Critics see neutrality as an obstacle to network updating and next-generation Internet services. Even Bob Kahn , one of the first inventors of the Internet, believes that net neutrality will block the testing and improvement of the network. But campaigners disagree. According to them, telecommunications companies may tend to discriminate between different types of traffic, introducing payments for producers of objectionable content, or competitors. The risk is that if you do not pay, the service can be poor or, worse yet, it can not be fully accessed. You could be forced to choose an internet provider on the basis of content (web sites, VoIP services, etc. ..) without having complete freedom to surf the net.

The biggest providers are pushing for non-neutrality, especially in the U.S., where the idea of introducing a two-speed Internet service is under discussion. This reform would obviously have repercussions around the world. The main browsers, search engines and online businesses such as Google, Microsoft, eBay and Amazon are supporting a law on neutrality. According to Google, "network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should have control over what they can see and what applications they want to use on the Internet."

In Europe, legislation on net neutrality is not well defined. This is under discussion within the so-called "Telecoms Package", a complex group of five directives aimed at regulating the system of electronic communications. The Digital Agenda EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes, from the Netherlands, could be pushed to ensure the neutrality of the network throughout Europe, but the legislation would inevitably come to terms with those overseas.

According to Monique Goyens , director general of the "European Consumers' Organisation" (BEUC) , the decision of the Netherlands is "a point of reference that should be followed throughout the European Union." Contrary to current EU telecoms package and the Anglo-Saxon approach, where the transparency of the traffic management hasn't been properly discussed, the Dutch government has decided to "preserve the right of users to access content, services and applications to their liking ".

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