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European Commission on the Future of the Internet

The European Commission has just published a communication which describes the broad lines of its Internet policy in the coming years. Vint Cerf, on the Google Public Policy blog sees this as a very interesting vision.

Indeed, it closely links the issue of openness of the Internet to several obvious and not-so-obvious factors. An open Internet relies on an open market that allows innovation, but at the same time sufficiently regulated to prevent incumbents to outplay newcomers. The communication also supports Net neutrality, noting the current practices of traffic prioritizing used by ISPs may prove to be anti-competitive.

Vint also notes that the European vision considers open standards and open interfaces to be vital part of an open Internet. While open standards is a given in the Internet world, thanks to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the concept of open interfaces is quite new in this context. It has been used previously in the investigations of the Commission on Microsoft’s anti-competitive behaviours. So, my understanding of the term “open interfaces” in this context is that it covers everything that is preventing vendor lock-in, like open file formats.

It is good also to read that the Commission wants to add broadband Internet access in the Universal Service. Currently, many parts of rural Europe do not have broadband Internet access, because the costs of deploying an infrastructure is disproportionate with the expected returns. If broadband is included in the Universal Service, it will mean operators will be forced to offer the service, but at the same time public authorities will be allowed to subsidize it.

All in all, this seems like the way to go. It does not mean that citizens should sign a blank check to the governments and ISPs in hope that they will implement this vision the right way. The devil is often in the details, as the recent discussion in the European Parliament has demonstrated. If there had been no citizen’s actions, we might have ended up with the awful “graduated response” proposal that would have allowed Hollywood to decide who gets access to the Internet. By the way, congratulations to the European chapters of ISOC to have raised the issue.

By Patrick Vande Walle, All around Internet governance troublemaker

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