Skype Brings Net Neutrality Debate To Europe

With US legislation on fixed networks in the pipeline, Skype calls for action against mobile operators that restrict what users can do online

Skype’s European director of government and regulatory affairs Jean-Jacques Sahel has called on the EU authorities to ensure net neutrality. In a blog post published yesterday, he demands that the European Commission commits to an open internet policy, and use its powers to “stamp out abuse”.

The net neutrality debate has been heating up in the US, after complaints that broadband access providers blocked or throttled service, particularly those of rivals. Under the Obama administration the US regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is planning legislation to ensure net neutrality.

Content providers, media companies and social network outfits like Skype want net neutrality, as it gives them a guaranteed conduit for their traffic. Broadband access companies providing that conduit see it as a threat, potentialy requiring them to carry unlimited data for an endless series of services which gather revenue for someone else.

The chief executives of web and media firms including Skype, Sony Electronics, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, have lobbied the FCC in an open letter arguing that net neutrality protects the consumer’s right to access what they want online. On the other side, AT&T urged its employees to write to the FCC, complaining that the proposed regulation would be bad for consumers, jobs, investment and universal broadband.


Sahel complains that Skype is still arbitrarily blocked by a number of mobile operators across several EU countries, together with thousands of other VoIP and peer-to-peer applications. “So far, we’ve seen no action by the European authorities to stamp out these blatant abuses of what internet users can do online,” he said.

“The excuse that ‘net neutrality is an American problem’ just doesn’t wash anymore; it’s too convenient and simply not true, as millions of users and thousands of VoIP, peer-to-peer or video streaming innovators can attest because they are blocked or their traffic degraded by operators throughout Europe, just like Skype.”

Sahel presented these views last week at the Westminster eForum Future of Mobile event in London, where the other side was also strongly argued. The unlimited amounts of data used by VoIP and peer-to-peer applications can lead to an increase in data volumes which far exceeds the revenue used to build networks, Andrew Bud, chairman of mobile billing company mBlox told the event: “When a service makes money, the operator needs to be cut in. Operators don’t see the upside in other people making money at their expense.”

Bud suggests a model in which the data provider pays the operator to provide a specific service – a model which has already been dismissed by Sahel.

“The thousands of innovators that depend on an open internet to continue to innovate and put their products, applications, services and content online cannot wait years for lengthy political debates to take place, or for the market to ‘correct itself’ – they’ll have gone bankrupt before then,” said Sahel in his blog post. “Users cannot wait either, before they can freely use what they have paid for – full internet access, whether it’s fixed or mobile.”

The European Commission is currently working on a declaration on net neutrality, which it plans to issue before the end of the year.