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Net neutrality in Norway

Safeguarding of net neutrality is important for preservation of the Internet as an increasingly dominating communication channel. Net neutrality means equal treatment of traffic on the Internet, whereby end users are ensured that their Internet connection can be used to access and distribute content of their choice, and not controlled by their ISP.

The net neutrality provisions in the Norwegian electronic communications act were adopted by the national parliament March 2017. Norwegians hardly noticed the difference, since there was already an effective regulation of net neutrality in Norway. Norwegian Communications Authority (Nkom) launched national guidelines for net neutrality in February 20091, based on a common understanding among stakeholders in the industry. A major difference is that the voluntary agreement is replaced by a binding law.

The bill Proposition states that “Safeguarding net neutrality is essential in order to ensure good, future-oriented electronic communications services for users throughout Norway and foster industrial development and innovation, and is a prerequisite for further economic, social, cultural and democratic development in modern society. The goal of the work on net neutrality is to ensure that the internet remains a well-functioning, open and non-discriminatory platform for all types of communication and distribution of content.”

Norway, a part of Europe

Norway was the first European country to establish a regulatory regime for net neutrality. After Nkom launched the Norwegian net neutrality guidelines in 2009, Nkom was in 2010 appointed to chairmanship of BEREC’s new Net Neutrality Expert Working Group. In 2011, when monitoring the impact of market on “net freedoms”, the European Commission published a Communication, which also covered the Norwegian approach to net neutrality.
In 2012 BEREC, on request from the European Commission, conducted a traffic management investigation among European operators. The results from this investigation showed that on average, every fifth European subscriber to fixed Internet access, and as much as every third subscriber to mobile Internet access, experienced restrictions to the use of their own Internet access service, such as blocking of VoIP.

With this background, the Commission in 2013 proposed a Regulation covering net neutrality and other areas, and after considerable political discussion in the European Parliament in 2014 and in the Council of EU in 2015, Regulation 2015/2120 was adopted by the end of 2015. This Regulation is incorporated in the Norwegian law too, due to its EEA relevance.

Norwegian net neutrality policy

The codification of net neutrality thus entails that the national guidelines from 2009 has been phased out. At the same time, it is stated in the bill that “The Ministry nevertheless wants, insofar as it is possible within the framework of the Regulation, to maintain the Norwegian net neutrality policy established through many years' experience.”

There are clear similarities between the European rules on net neutrality and the previous Norwegian guidelines, which will facilitate such maintenance of the Norwegian net neutrality policy. Both sets of rules deal with transparency, reasonable traffic management and the opportunity to offer specialised services such as VoIP and IPTV, parallel to the Internet access service, under certain conditions.

By contrast, the Regulation is less clear in its provisions on zero-rating. While the Norwegian guidelines were in force, a market for internet access services had been established that did not use zero-rating for Norwegian subscriptions. This means that the regulation of zero-rating will become an area that may require close follow-up in the future.

1 Norwegian guidelines for net neutrality, from 2009