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Brussels threatens to name ISPs with 'doubtful' market practices

ISPs: If you rip us off, Neelie Kroes will cut you

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The European Union's digital agenda commissioner warned today that she would consider prohibiting "the blocking of lawful services or applications" if some ISPs are found to have "ripped off" consumers on connection speeds.

Neelie Kroes said that between now and end of 2011, member states will come under scrutiny from regulatory outfit Berec on behalf of the European Commission.

The group has been tasked with undertaking a "rigorous fact-finding exercise on issues crucial to ensuring an open and neutral internet, including barriers to changing operators, blocking or throttling internet traffic (eg, voice over internet services), transparency and quality of service."

Kroes said she would present Berec's findings at the end of this year.

Kroes said: "Mark my words: if measures to enhance competition are not enough to bring internet providers to offer real consumer choice, I am ready to prohibit the blocking of lawful services or applications. It's not OK for Skype and other such services to be throttled. That is anti-competitive. It's not OK to rip off consumers on connection speeds."

The commissioner also used examples in her speech in Brussels today to highlight some of the claims made against ISPs that have been brought to the attention of the EC.

Among such allegations, Kroes cited an anonymous UK operator that, it has been claimed, throttles Skype usage in afternoons and evenings without informing its customers.

She said "more stringent measures" could be introduced if customers are unable to easily switch between providers to counteract the throttling and blocking practices of some ISPs.

However, her rhetoric fell short of a much-needed punch, with the commissioner saying simply that "prescriptive guidance, or even legislation" could be brought in down the line.

So far the Commission has offered what critics of its initial findings say amounts to a watered-down version of so-called 'Net Neutrality' in order to preserve the "internet value chain".

On 25 May, national communications' watchdogs will be required to do some of the heavy lifting ahead of any possible legislation introduced by the EU.

Under the European Privacy and Electronic Communications directive, businesses and other organisations in the 27 Member States running websites that track their users' cookies will be required by law to obtain "explicit consent" from visitors to their sites.

In short, ISPs will be required to be transparent about their traffic management policies.

In the UK, The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is tasked with steering the regulation, while the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for implementing the new measures in the UK.

Questions have been raised about whether the UK.gov would hit the deadline to implement the new EU law, and just last week the DCMS said a second working group would be formed to address those concerns.

About which, the ICO issued this statement to The Register yesterday:

"Responsibility for changes to EU regulations on electronic communications lies with DCMS. The timing of the publication of new regulations is not down to the ICO," it said.

"It is the ICO's responsibility to provide advice and guidance but this cannot be published until the regulations themselves are available. Our guidance, which is already in draft, will be available before implementation on 25 May."

Separately, EC spokesman Jonathan Todd told us that the commission was aware of UK.gov's plans to bring in secondary legislation to make the changes law, by putting its proposals before parliament soon.

"We will closely monitor all Member States' implementation and will open infringement procedures against any Member State that fails to notify implementing measures by the 25th May deadline," Todd said. ®

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