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The first year with net neutrality in Europe

Net neutrality was established by law in Europe one year ago. Safeguarding of net neutrality is important for preservation of the Internet as an increasingly dominating communication channel. By the end of June, European regulators have published first release of their annual net neutrality reports.

By Frode Sørensen, Senior Advisor, Norwegian Communications Authority (Nkom)

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. This is safeguarded as an end user right by the European net neutrality regulation.

Political agreement about net neutrality in Norway

The net neutrality provisions in the Norwegian electronic communications act were unanimously adopted by the national parliament on 7 March 2017, and became applicable from 20 March. Norwegians will hardly notice 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 2009, based on a common understanding among stakeholders in the industry. A major difference now is that the voluntary agreement is replaced by a binding law.

In Norway there is broad consensus about net neutrality. Recently Minister of Transport and Communications, Ketil Solvik-Olsen expressed: “It is important that Internet is accessible and works equally for all users. Net neutrality and access to resources on the Internet is fundamental for economic, social, cultural and democratic development in our society.” Also the former government led by prime minister Jens Stoltenberg expressed clear support to net neutrality, for example in the coalition declaration.

Zero-rating is challenging net neutrality

Based on the development in European countries, but also in other parts of the world, one can observe a shift from technical to economic discrimination of application providers on the Internet. Therefore, it is not unexpected that Internet access service offers where selected applications are zero-rated are emerging on the Norwegian market too.

The first mover was Telia in January 2017, when their Norwegian trademark OneCall launched the zero-rating offer “Free Internet radio” to its customers, in relation to the shutdown of the FM radio as a final step of the switchover to DAB radio. Nkom initiated an investigation, but when the offer was withdrawn, the investigation was closed.

Then, in March 2017, Telenor introduced a new subscription “Yng” for young people in the age between 18 to 28 years. The subscription included the zero-rating offer “Music Freedom”. Nkom has analyzed this case and published a report by the end of June, assessing the “Music Freedom” under the European net neutrality rules.

In the meantime, early June, Telia launched a zero-rating offer also named “Music Freedom” for all its subscriptions, except subscription with smaller data caps. Nkom has initiated data collection from Telia in this case.

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.