Dutch parliament approves mobile neutrality bill

Binnenhof, States-General of the Netherlands

In what may prove to be a major step forward for mobile network neutrality, the Dutch parliament has approved a bill that would require mobile Internet operators to enable customers to use Skype or SMS app WhatsApp on their networks without additional charges. The bill would also prevent operators from giving preferential service to their own offerings.

The bill still needs to be approved by the Dutch senate, but that step is usually a formality once a bill has been approved by parliament. If enacted as law, it would mark one of the strongest net neutrality laws in any nation—and is more notable for applying specifically to the mobile industry.

The bill is essentially a legislative response to pricing policies enacted by Dutch mobile operator KPN, which announced disappointing first-quarter earnings in April and laid part of the blame on a service called WhatsApp, which enables users with Internet-connected phons to sidestep KPN’s SMS offerings via Internet-based messaging. Although SMS messages cost mobile operators very little to support, they’re offered at very high profile margins and often constitute a significant portion of a mobile operator’s revenue stream. To make up the difference, KPN head Eelco Blok announced plans to charge customers for using WhatsApp as well as Skype, which enables users to bypass traditional mobile voice services with VoIP calling.

KPN’s announcement outraged customers, not only because of the prospect of having to pay more to user Internet services, but also because it revealed KPN was performing deep packet inspection on its network traffic to monitor closely what apps and services were being used by its customers.

Opponents of the bill and net neutrality legislation in general claim the regulations will stifle competition in the mobile industry, and enable Internet service and content companies (like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft) to profit off the backs of the infrastructure laid out by mobile operators.

In the United States, net neutrality regulations recently outlined by the FCC leave the mobile arena largely unregulated, with providers largely able to block specific apps and services—and lock customers into their own—at their discretion, so long as they do so with transparency. The proposed net neutrality regulations are being challenged in court by Verizon, which claims the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate either Internet or mobile operators.

[Image: Patrick Rasenberg]