“Traffic Management Cannot Be Based on Commercial Considerations”

3 Questions to Pierre Goerens, Chairman of the Working Party on Telecommunications and Information Society

The trilogue of the European Commission, Parliament and Council of the European Union recently agreed on the proposal for the “Telecoms Single Market” (or TSM). While this has mostly been reported as the end of roaming charges in Europe, the new rules mean a big step in transparency and competition regulation of internet traffic. Netopia sought out Pierre Goerens, Chairman of the Working Party on Telecommunications and Information Society during the Luxembourg Presidency semester, who was involved in the negotiations to find out more.

Per Strömbäck: The open internet rules demand that telecom carriers do not use blocking or throttling “on commercial considerations”. This is a big step for the carriers, as it is common-practice to give less bandwidth to expensive traffic protocols and competing services. Is it not going too far in meddling with how the internet currently functions? Is there not a risk that the well-functioning of the internet will be jeopardized?

Pierre Goerens: It is very important that the European rules safeguard equal and non-discriminatory treatment of traffic by providers of internet access services. The internet should remain a level playing field, and end-users must have the right to access and distribute information and use and provide services of their choice over the internet.

At the same time the regulation allows operators to apply reasonable traffic management measures that are necessary to optimize overall transmission quality and user experience. However such measures cannot be based on commercial considerations, but on objectively technical quality of service requirements of specific categories of traffic, or in exceptional cases, to preserve network security, to prevent network congestion or to comply with legal obligations. It is a delicate balance between the rights and needs of end-users on one hand and the necessity of traffic management to preserve the well-functioning of the internet on the other hand.

PS: The proposed regulation allows for exception for ”services requiring specific levels of quality”. Who will determine which services fall into that category? What if there are conflicting views? Can the regulator be fast enough to settle such issues before competition is harmed?

PG: The new rules allow for the provision of specialised services requiring a specific level of quality, such as for example e-health services, but only where an optimization is necessary to meet these requirements and under the condition that it is not to the detriment of the general quality of the open internet. These services are not subject to a prior authorization by a regulatory authority, but they will be monitored and national authorities will ensure that all the conditions are met.

PS: New players have entered the internet access market, for example internet platforms offering broadband access. How can the proposed framework handle such market disruption?

The regulation does not make a difference between specialized internet access service providers, network operators or over the top service providers which offer also internet access. The rules aim at preserving a level playing field between different types of actors, ensuring an open internet also for newcomers and start ups, and safeguarding the free choice of end-users. Innovation remains possible both for the well established players and for new entrants and this should foster fair competition and the further development of internet services in the best interest of European citizens and businesses.