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Is your broadband Champagne or sparkling wine?

Broadband subscribers deserve to know if they’re getting Champagne or sparkling wine from their ISP says Europe’s top technology watchdog.

Neelie Kroes, the European Commission’s digital agenda commissioner, claims customers aren’t getting enough information about blocking and throttling of services like Skype and P2P downloads.

Up to half of Europe’s mobile broadband users have contracts that restrict services like Skype internet voice calls or peer-to-peer file sharing, according to the Commission’s research.

One in five fixed broadband services restrict traffic like P2P sharing at peak times, although most mobile and fixed ISPs have at least one unrestricted broadband offer.

Kroes said: “Consumers also need to know if they are getting Champagne or lesser sparkling wine.

European broadband restrictions (BEREC research)

“If it is not full Internet, it shouldn’t be marketed as such; perhaps it shouldn’t be marketed as ‘Internet’ at all, at least not without any upfront qualification.

“I do not propose to force each and every operator to provide full Internet: it is for consumers to vote with their feet. But I want to be sure that these consumers are aware of what they are getting, and what they are missing.”

The threat of action will bring net neutrality – the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally – back to the forefront of debate between ISPs and regulators.

Kroes’ first call is for clear information on real-life broadband speeds – British fixed broadband consumers do well here, with Ofcom’s detailed annual speed reports and broadband providers required to provide an accurate speed estimate before they sign up new customers.

We’re also well looked-after on the subject of fair-use policies, with British ISPs only allowed to advertise ‘unlimited’ internet when there’s no traffic management or usage cap.

UK ISPs don’t have to tell you how they can tell Skype or file-sharing from surfing and email, and Kroes also wants them to make this information available.

But mobile broadband services don’t face such tight regulations, and with mobile broadband expected to fill some of the UK’s fixed-line ‘not-spots’, users will need to know if it does what they want. 


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