Podcast neutrality

Last June, the Internet Access Task Force of the US Federal Trade Commission issued a report, summarizing their findings on the subject of network neutrality (the principle that obliges the telecommunication
companies that transport internet traffic to not discriminate the content that they transport). The conclusion is that

In the absence of significant market failure or demonstrated consumer
harm, policy makers should be particularly hesitant to enact new
regulation in this area.

The European Commission seems to take it more seriously:

[…] the Commission expresses, in today’s Communication, its readiness to closely monitor attempts to call into question the neutral character of the Internet.

but I am not aware of any actual law that could help enforce this principle.

Today, Stefano Quintarelli calls our attention upon the announce made by Vodafone, promoting a new tariff plan (for mobile web access) where content discrimination is the distinctive feature regarding podcasts, with lower prices for accessing contents provided by partners. I recommend reading the comments on Stefano’s post as well, since the debate is extremely interesting.

I have nothing to say against Vodafone, since for what I know this is perfectly within the rules I am not aware of all the complex antitrust and replicability issues: I am complaining about the lack of regulations on net neutrality. Paolo tries to see it in a positive light, pointing out the opportunity for a competitor to offer a truly flat tariff and taking customers away from Vodafone. I am not sure that this self-regulating-market kind of solution would work (theoretically speaking, it wouldn’t) but I must admit that, practically speaking, it may be the only effective way to reverse the course.

Back to good theory, I’d say that this is good proof of what Stefano Rodotà keeps telling us about the fact that the internet needs regulations in order to preserve its freedom – otherwise, sooner or later, someone will come and find an interest in taking part of that freedom away (a video registration of his lecture is available on the ISOC website – Italian only).

[Note: in a comment, Stefano points out that this is not within the rules: I have no reason to doubt it, so I edited the corresponding paragraph above.]

  • Stefano Quintarelli |

    Fabio, this is not “perfectly within the rules”.
    As a matter of fact it is a walled garden made by an entity which is notified by authorities as having “significant market power” (which is not the case, for example, for H3G) and, like the famous antitrust Tetrapak case, or even MS’s, this is not compatible with regulations.
    Furthermore there is an issue of replicability (i.e. it is non replicable).
    Telecom Italia was envolved in a similar behaviour some years ago and we brought it to DGCOMP in Brussels and they quickly settled.
    Fact is that fines in Italy are so low that an economic powerhouse finds no incentives in not misbehaving, but Brussels seems more “serious” in its rulings, as we all know for different cases in the recent past.
    My opinion is that maybe this is an offer developed by marketing not fully aware of regulatory implications.

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