September 29th, 2008 | Published in Google Public Policy
I recently returned from a trip to Europe and discovered some interesting thinking there about the Internet. Last week the European Commission launched a debate about whether broadband now needs to be considered part of "universal service." Today, the European Commission’s Information Society and Media department, led by Commissioner Viviane Reding, has published a fascinating paper on the future networks and the Internet. It is only ten pages long, so I'd suggest everyone take a look.
Commissioner Reding identifies many of the key issues facing the net and proposes realistic, pragmatic solutions. Her bottom line is simple: the Internet will thrive only by remaining free and open. And she recognizes that there are a variety of dangers that could close the net.
The Commissioner reiterates the powerful statement she made last June in Seoul at the OECD conference about the need for open networks. This paper restates the danger of internet service providers using their "traffic management" powers "for anti-competitive practices such as unfairly prioritizing some traffic or slowing it down, and, in extreme cases, blocking it." In order to prevent such a negative development, Commissioner Reding suggests legislation is required to ensure that Internet traffic is treated fairly and not blocked or slowed down. I've spoken out about this issue of net neutrality in the U.S.
In the paper, the Commission vows to help forge new copyright solutions to enable new business models to emerge. We're looking closely at this issue.
The paper also makes a compelling case for open standards. It acknowledges the danger of "dominant players" leveraging "proprietary standards to lock consumers into their products or to extract very high royalties from market players, ultimately slowing innovation and foreclosing market entry by new players." She promises that the Commission will use its regulatory powers to prevent such players from putting a brake on the web.
What impresses me most of all is how the Commission recognizes that an Open Internet requires a combination of these three points. For Europe to keep up in the global online race, it needs to sprint ahead powered by an openness recipe encompassing a neutral network, users rights, and open standards. I'm delighted that Europe’s policymakers stress the successful ingredients to promoting a robust, healthy Internet. As usual, I am especially impressed by Commissioner Reding's clarity and energy. If she is successful in this effort, the Internet community in Europe will have much for which to thank her.