Time to stand up for freedom on the web
In essence the French and EU authorities are having formal consultations around the open Internet. We've long talked about this and share many of the same views as Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner for the Information Society, and her predecessor Vivian Reding: that EU regulations should (and now do) protect net neutrality and net freedoms.
What's worrying us is that some very large telecom companies are starting to say Internet, especially when accessed with mobile devices, is a drain on their networks and they want to charge Internet companies fees to run data on "their" network.
As we've made some major steps to bring Skype to mobile users recently you'd expect we object to that. And we do. Here's why:
The first point is that it's not 'their' network - the Internet does not belong to anyone - it has grown thanks to more than 40,000 networks voluntarily interconnecting to form an open, decentralised network of networks. The operators making the complaints right now only carry the data for a small part of its journey around the web. The rest of the Internet ecosystem is based on a successful business model that does not and never had such subsidising of infrastructure companies by content providers. Should water companies be allowed to charge garden centres, pasta makers and coffee producers for encouraging demand for water consumption?
Second, and we think more worrying, is that this idea of charging online companies threatens the very innovation that will drive people and businesses to start using the Internet on their mobile device. In Europe and across the world there are teams of software developers creating apps and services that will drive demand for data plans sold by operators. These are not getrichquickteenagers making millions of dollars every day. They are hard working small and midsized companies that are fighting for survival in a tough environment.
Alongside these heroes of the (mobile) Internet are thousands upon thousands of companies, big and small, who rely on the Internet to distribute their goods and services.
It is an affront to ask all these engines of economic growth to pay a fee to large multinational telecommunication companies.
The last point to stress is that mobile customers are already paying operators for Internet access. There has been a big increase in sales of data plans, thanks only to the appeal of all kinds of online content, services and applications like Skype, Wikipedia, Spotify, or Facebook. Innovative content and app developers are the raison d'être for the mobile Internet. Without them operators would not sell a single Internet data plan. Smart operators like 3 in the UK get this and it is proving to be a successful business for them.
At the other extreme, we are baffled to see that many of the operators that supposedly 'allow' VoIP on mobile at last, such as Orange in France, actually reserve the use of VoIP only to those consumers with the most expensive packages, or require payment of a VoIPspecific prohibitive charge in addition to a user's basic 'Internet' fee, which seems to imply a doublepayment by consumers for their Internet use. That's not the way to ensure rising consumer demand for mobile Internet packages and customer satisfaction, but a sure way to kill off European SMEs by making it artificially difficult and expensive to use their innovative content and apps.
We should be encouraging entrepreneurs and innovators so that Europe can be globally competitive, with high and rewarding employment. It makes no sense to threaten an entire ecosystem with artificial barriers and a (private!) tax affecting innovation and entrepreneurship.
If you agree it's important to join us in putting this case to the regulators. Here is the link to the French government consultation (PDF): Discussions are also heating up in the Netherlands where the draft revisions to the telecoms law put forward by the outgoing government deliberately does not contain a clear principle protecting net neutrality apparently. Please subscribe to this blog (links to the right) if you want to hear more on this and we'll send through details of the EU consultation when it starts so you can express your views and help protect the open Internet in Europe and ensure user choice, jobs and innovation are fostered and protected.