Europe’s hitherto image as a bulwark against net neutrality has been shattered as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken in favour of creating an internet fast lane for certain services.
The net neutrality debate has raged in the US, with companies such as streaming service Netflix fighting attempts by telecoms providers and internet service providers to create separate lanes of the internet that would result in consumers paying higher prices for basic access we take for granted today.
The fear is this will result in a two-tiered internet with best access restricted to those who can pay for it.
Last month, US President Barack Obama rowed into the net neutrality debate and called for a free and open internet.
“We cannot allow internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” Obama said in a speech aimed at the Federal Communications Commission to protect net neutrality.
Battle lines being drawn on net neutrality
However, today at the Vodafone-hosted Digitising Europe conference in Berlin, Merkel called for the splitting of service – one for a free internet and the other for “special services”.
According to German news site TheLocal.de, Merkel said, “An innovation-friendly internet means that there is a guaranteed reliability for special services. These can only develop when predictable quality standards are available.”
Until now, Europe at least appeared united in its resolve to protect net neutrality.
But now that illusion has been shattered.
“Merkel’s comments are catastrophic, she’s calling for a two-tier internet,” said Social Democratic Party (SPD) MEP Petra Kammerevert.
Merkel’s views cast an ominous light, especially since German MEPs have taken a hardline on internet-related issues of late, successfully encouraging the European Parliament to vote in favour of splitting search giant Google’s search operation from its commercial business as a way to resolve a long-running anti-trust case.