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Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Internet-related policies, about the net neutrality

Neelie_KroesNeelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Internet-related policies, recently published an article in the French newspaper Liberation stating that while she was in favour of an open Internet and maximum choice that must be protected, and she believed that “consumers should be free to make their own choices about their Internet subscriptions”, this “does not preclude consumers from subscribing to more differentiated, limited Internet offers, possibly for a lower price.”
 The entire discussion occurred after Free, one of the largest ISPs in France, decided to block Web ads by default on its FreeBox router thus placing several ISPs which depend on advertising in a very bad position. This kind of practice can be avoided by making net neutrality mandatory through EU legislation which will ensure a fair competition on the market and will promote innovation.
 In her opinion, Kroes drew the attention that consumers “should not forget that choice has consequences. Opting for blocking ads or requesting privacy (‘do not track’) may mean you don’t get access to content for free. The internet does not run on its own. The network, content and internet access all have to be paid for by someone. Many smaller web operators exist on the basis of innovative advertising models. There are various ways consumers pay for content, including by viewing advertisements before or during their access to content. Businesses should accept that different consumers will have different preferences, and design services accordingly.”
 However, less than one year ago, in May 2012 Kroes stated: “We have recently seen how many thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the Internet. This is a strong new political voice. And as a force for openness, I welcome it, even if I do not always agree with everything it says on every subject. We are now likely to be in a world without SOPA and without ACTA. Now we need to find solutions to make the Internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde.”
 But now, the commissioner brings in the “free market” argument in favour of differentiated offers which will actually restrict the open market for online services.
 “On net neutrality, consumers need effective choice on the type of internet subscription they sign up to. That means real clarity, in non-technical language. About effective speeds in normal conditions, and about any restrictions imposed on traffic – and a realistic option to switch to a “full” service, without such restrictions, offered by their own provider or another. Ensuring consumer choice can mean constraints on others – in this case, an obligation for all internet service providers to offer an accessible “full” option to their customers. But such choice should also drive innovation and investment by internet providers, with benefits for all. I am preparing a Commission initiative to secure this effective consumer choice in Europe.”
 La Quatrature du Net has been quick in reacting and qualified Kroes’ opinion as a “shameless defence of operators”. “Net neutrality is not a question of market but, before anything else, a question of fundamental freedoms”, stated Benjamin Sonntag, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.
 Internet and filtering applications: a tale of choice and revenues (17.01.2013) http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/neelie-kroes/adgate/
 EDRi-gram: French Minister asks US company to uphold France’s values (16.01.2013) http://edri.org/edrigram/number11.1/french-minister-net-neutrality
 Image http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Neelie_Kroes_2010-09-14.jpg

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