You have to hand it to the Dutch. On one hand, they crack down on their biggest
tourist attraction -- the ability of tourists to toke up legally in the famous
cannabis cafes. That's a big business
over there and of course there are protests developing, mellow ones with lots
of hungry people involved, to be sure.
On the other hand, they also did something truly
radical. Earlier this week, the Dutch government gave final
approval to one of the strongest open Internet laws in the world. Imagine that.
A government guaranteeing through law that Internet connections can't be
manipulated by big telecom companies. The chances of that happening here are roughly
equal to marijuana being legalized -- not just offered through clinics, which
could then be raided by law enforcement.
(Of course, Europeans also do things like protect consumers from high
rates and save people money. Perish the
Providers of public electronic communication networks which deliver Internet
access services and providers of Internet access services do not hinder or slow
down applications and services on the Internet, unless and to the extent that
the measure in question with which applications or services are being hindered
or slowed down is necessary:
a. to minimize the effects of congestion, whereby equal types of traffic should
be treated equally;
b. to preserve the integrity and security of the network and service of the
provider in question or the terminal of the end user;
c. to restrict the transmission to an end user of unsolicited communication as
referred to in Article 11.7, first paragraph, provided that the end user has
given its prior consent;
d. to give effect to a legislative provision or court order.
There are two other parts to the law. One sets out the conditions under which a
subscriber may be disconnected, and the third is characterized as an
"anti-wiretapping" provision. For those
who are constantly pushing for monitoring of consumer traffic to detect
potential infringements, this part of the law would be, shall we say, totally
unacceptable because it is based on providing customer privacy.
Notwithstanding the Dutch Penal Code and the provisions set out in or by way of
this act, the provider of a public electronic communications network and the
provider of a public electronic communications service ensure the
confidentiality of the communication and the related data via their network or
2. The provider
of a public electronic communications network and the provider of a public
electronic communications service shall refrain from the tapping, listening, or
other kinds of interception or surveillance of communications via a public
electronic communications network or public electronic communications service
and the related traffic data, unless and to the extent that:
subscriber in question has provided is explicit consent for these actions;
b. these actions are necessary to ensure the integrity and security of the
networks and services of the provider in question;
c. these actions are necessary to ensure the transmission of information via
the networks and services of the provider in question; or
d. these actions are necessary to comply with a legislative provision or a
3. Prior to
obtaining consent as referred to in paragraph 2, sub a, the provider provides
the subscriber with the following information:
a. the type of
data which is being tapped, listened, intercepted or surveilled;
b. the purposes for which the data are being tapped, listened, intercepted or
c. the duration of the tapping, listening, intercepting or surveilling of the
Remember, these are rules for the country with the best
Internet access rankings in Europe. According to Akamai's State of the Net report
for 4Q 2011, the Netherlands was 4th in world in highest average
connection speed, (U.S. was 13th ) at 8.2 Mpbs -- the highest in
Europe. It was also 2nd in
the world with the percentage of subscribers above 5 Mbps -- 67 percent (U.S. is 12th)
and 6th in percentage of customers above 2 mbps, 94 percent (U.S. is 35th, with 80 percent).
The Net Neutrality laws were enacted in a hyper-competitive,
super-charged market in which cable has captured around 40 percent of the
Internet-access business in an environment in which both telephone and cable
companies have to unbundle their networks and offer service to competitors. It is, in short, the kind of network the U.S.
could have had -- robust, constant competition between and among copper, fiber
and cable networks -- but which U.S. regulators chose first to take apart during
the Bush Administration and now to ignore generally in the Obama years.
It's probably a little inconvenient and awkward (declasse?) to bring Net
Neutrality back to the discussion after all these months. After all, it's nothing more than intrusive
government trying to tell business how companies should treat their customers,
right? Wrong. Just as Dutch policymakers recognized the
need for open networks in a regulatory structure far more competitive than
ours, the requirements for an open, neutral network are even more important as
U.S. policymakers stand idly by while the industry consolidates and grabs even
Comcast's questionable exemption of its data caps for the
Xbox 360 is just the latest example, one that Netflix illustrated simply and
starkly in a presentation to the Federal Communications Commission staff. Material is exempt from caps when the carrier
generates it. It is not exempt when it
comes from another source, like over-the-top programming or video like Comcast.
In recent weeks, there have been two technical analysis of
Comcast's video traffic. In one, Bryan
Berg, founder/CTO at
Mixed Media Labs, found after looking at the headers on packets: "The
bottom line: Comcast built an Internet video streaming service. In certain
cases, it exempted that service from bandwidth caps despite evidence that those
streams are actually more expensive to deliver. It even appears that Comcast is
prioritizing its own video streams over the other services."
Similarly, Dan Rayburn, executive vp of StreamingMedia.com, got
his own data and reached the same conclusion:
"One of the
points in that document [setting terms for the merger] says that, 'Comcast shall not
prioritize Defendants' Video Programming or other content over other Persons'
Video Programming or other content.' While Comcast agreed to these terms and said they would not
prioritize their video traffic over someone like Netflix, that's exactly what
they are doing."
Porter, economics columnist of the New York Times, lent his persuasive and
authoritative voice to the discussion on May 8, when he published a strong
piece in favor of a neutral Internet. He
wrote: "Imagine a network of private
highways that reserved a special lane for Fords to zip through, unencumbered by
all the other brands of cars trundling along the clogged, shared lanes. Think
of the prices Ford could charge. Think of what would happen to innovation when
building the best car mattered less than cutting a deal with the highway's
hit all the high points -- the harm to innovation, the lack of customer choice
of Internet Service Providers, the costs to consumers the locked-up market
brings -- and concluded the FCC "appears to have made the wrong call" when it
did away with the requirement that carriers share their lines with others. The pending cartelization between Verizon and
the big cable companies "suggests a market carve-up is about to take place,
with Verizon focusing on wireless broadband and cable companies on wires into
took on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) saying that, "right now,
regulation appears weak. The F.C.C. has net neutrality
rules. But the agency lost one neutrality case against Comcast
in 2010, and Verizon is challenging the new rules issued in
response to the ruling. The rules, moreover, have loopholes. For instance, they allow broadband
providers to allocate portions of their pipes for special 'managed' services." Porter is right.
was particularly cheeky of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on May 8 to list to
the wireless industry at its annual conference that among the FCC's
accomplishments was "establishing rules of the road to preserve Internet
freedom." Those rules, now under court challenge, basically exempted
Porter's conclusion, too, was right on point: "Fifty years ago, consumers were allowed to hook
up only Bell telephones to their Bell phone lines. But in the 1960s, the F.C.C.
and the courts forced the Bells to accept any device that didn't threaten the
network. The decision unleashed a torrent of innovation -- including the
answering machine, the fax and the first device that allowed us to explore what
would become the Internet: the modem. Innovation
online requires an open playing field, too."
should be clear: Without an open
network, and more competition, U.S. innovation will go up in smoke.