Lockdown, social distancing, work from home, and on-line schooling resulted in an increased demand for Internet connectivity during the coronavirus crisis. The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and the Commission stated that the network is not congested; however, that the Internet traffic is increasing. In order to avoid network congestion, the Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, called on the streaming platforms to lower the quality of streaming during the coronavirus crisis, in another words switching from high definition to a standard one.
No discrimination of Internet traffic
According to the Open Internet Access Regulation, blocking, throttling, and discrimination of Internet traffic is banned, apart from the congestion management in exception and temporary situation. Nevertheless, any limitation must be necessary and provided that equivalent traffic—such as all streaming services—is treated equally. Is that the case?
Net neutrality is one of the basic principles of the Internet and any measure against it must be thoroughly supervised. This principle ensures that users can access and distribute information and content without any discrimination. It also ensures that telecom companies don’t favor their own services for commercial reasons or distort competition by degrading competitors' services.
I submitted a request to the Commissioner to publish the data based on which the call for lowering streaming quality was issued. I should receive an answer within next few weeks. Furthermore, together with my Pirate colleague from the Czech Parliament, Ondřej Profant, we posed the same question to the Czech Telecommunication Office and Ministry of Trade of the Czech Republic, which followed the Commission’s example and issued similar recommendation.
Is the measure necessary?
Apart from the rather vague answer ignoring the request to share the background information supporting the decision to issue this call, the Czech Telecommunication Office informed me that the traffic has spiked by maximum 20% compared to the usual situation in case of home Internet Service Providers and by few percent in case of mobile Internet Service Providers. I was assured that the Czech networks are well-designed and the Czech providers have been able to deal with the increase without any trouble. On the European level, the Commission has been closely monitoring development of Internet traffic along with national regulators to swiftly react on changes and potential capacity issue during the crisis.
I will insist on a follow-up recommendation to take down those discriminatory measures limiting access and distribution of some specific content on-line, unless they are justified. The level of digitization of our society expands and deepens day by day, which goes hand in hand with increasing amount of data circulation globally. For the upcoming digital future, we need to strengthen the networks to be able to cope with undesirable network congestion rather than call for restriction on the free flow of information on the Internet.