EU Regulators Find Internet Restrictions Cause Consumers to Switch ISP - ISPreview UK
The Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications, which represents telecoms regulators from across the EU (e.g. Ofcom in the UK), has conducted a new survey to uncover consumer attitudes towards Net Neutrality. The study unsurprisingly reveals that consumers would switch ISP if a provider imposed certain limits on their access.

Net Neutrality, for those who don’t know, broadly reflects the principle of treating all Internet traffic as equal. In reality anybody with a proper knowledge of computer and Internet networking will understand that such a principle cannot truly exist as all data traffic will, at one stage or another, face some degree of management/adjustment.

But the waters around Net Neutrality become murky when ISPs or mobile providers begin imposing unfair restrictions on specific Internet services, such as in order to favour their own rival product or with the goal of extracting money from a content provider (i.e. pay up and we’ll give your speed back etc.). For example, some mobile operators see blocking Skype / VoIP as viable in order to defend their own voice call solutions.

The issue is currently the subject of a huge battle in Europe around the Digital Single Telecoms proposals. On one side the European Commission and Parliament want to see a set of rules that broadly protect open Internet access, while on the other a number of EU member states and communications providers would like to see greater flexibility so that they can run networks as they see fit.

In light of this BEREC has just published new research into how consumers value net neutrality, which among other things found that 86% of consumer respondents in Greece, 80% in Croatia, 73% in Czech Republic and 70% in Sweden all agreed with the following statement: “If my Internet provider decreased the speed for video streaming unless I paid extra, I would switch providers

BEREC Report Statement

The survey results showed that consumers place the highest value on fixed Internet access packages that did not include discriminatory traffic management practices. This was most clear for packages that restricted video streaming, whose value fell most relative to unrestricted packages. This suggests that some obviously undesirable practices – such as restricting access to competing video services in favour of an ISP’s own service – are unlikely to be attractive to consumers, at least at economically viable prices.

For less popular applications, such as Internet-based VoIP and gaming, the difference in value between restricted and unrestricted offers was smaller. The costs and benefits for ISPs to differentiate access to these services are less clear. Overall, the research indicates that consumer preferences and consequent ISP incentives will tend to lead to the provision and selection of neutral access to popular Internet applications.

However, the expectation that there will be widespread provision of open Internet access services will depend to some extent on transparency – the clarity and effectiveness of the information provided to consumers – and on the ease and accessibility of switching.
But the survey also concluded that there may still be “some consumers” who would prefer restricted ISP packages when offered at a sufficiently reduced price. In particular, the research suggests that, for packages with relatively low data caps, features like “zero-rating” (i.e. favouring specific services) are valued.

“It therefore seems likely that some ISPs may choose to offer packages that favour individual services (e.g. Spotify) or types of service (e.g. video streaming), if permitted under national rules,” said the report. The alternative would be for ISPs to offer packages with lower access speeds or lower data allowances at reduced prices or indeed, which would not raise the same concerns (i.e. correct pricing for the service offered. The reverse of charging more (i.e. the correct amount) for what you supply also works here.

As an organisation BEREC has previously raised concerns about earlier proposals to tackle the issue, which pledged to protect open Internet access through various safeguards. But BEREC worries about the enforceability and burden of any new legal obligations that could be placed upon Internet access providers, which they say should instead be based on a reasonable interpretation of the quality expected for the transportation of applications (i.e. “best effort” performance).