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Netherlands first European nation to adopt net neutrality

Telcos wail as revenues snatched from paws

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The Dutch Parliament yesterday agreed to make the Netherlands the first nation in Europe to officially put net neutrality principles into law. The law will force ISPs and telecom operators to ensure access to all types of content, services or applications available on the network.

The new telecom law has won a near unanimous vote, despite fierce opposition from telecom operators, who had been planning to charge for over-the-top services, such as Skype or WhatsApp Messenger, which bypass traditional cellular communications. Vodafone Netherlands is currently still blocking the use of Skype on its 3G mobile network.

Facing sharp criticism, the largest Dutch political party – the liberal VVD – withdrew an amendment which would still allow carriers and ISPs to charge extra for services. The proposal came from Afke Schaart, who until last year was Director of Public Affairs for KPN, the biggest telecom operator in the Netherlands.

In recent months, Dutch telecom operators have complained that the volume of text messaging is slowing sharply because of cross-platform mobile messaging apps which allow users to exchange messages without having to pay for SMSes.

KPN recently reported that its youth-oriented brand, Hi, saw an 8 per cent decline in text messages per customer in the first three months of this year. The uptake of the WhatsApp messaging app grew from 0 per cent of Hi's Android phone users in August 2010 to 85 per cent in April 2011. KPN proposed new pricing models, but said it would not block VoiP services.

Vodafone in particular lobbied the country's minister of economic affairs, Maxime Verhagen, for a more lenient law. The new law would still allow ISPs to filter porn or other offensive content, but only if customers ask for it.

The final vote on the new telecommunications act in the Dutch House of Representatives will take place next Tuesday, but is considered a formality.

Last year, Chile was first country in the world to approve, by 100 votes in favour and one abstention, a law guaranteeing net neutrality. ®

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