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New EU digital commissioner sets out position in net neutrality debate

Online content providers should be allowed to pay internet service providers (ISPs) to deliver a better quality of service to individuals accessing their content, but the services ISPs deliver to other consumers must not be compromised as a result, a senior EU official has said.

Andrus Ansip, who was installed as European Commission vice president responsible for the digital single market as part of the new Jean-Claude Juncker-led administration which took office earlier this month, made the comments in an interview with news agency Reuters.

"All the traffic has to be treated equally," Ansip said, according to the Reuters report. "The internet has to stay open for everybody… [Content providers are] allowed to have higher speeds – but not at the expense of others."

Ansip's comments come after US president Barack Obama issued a statement on the issue of 'net neutrality' earlier this month. Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs will deliver all content requested by a customer equally, not allowing content producers to have preferential access to subscribers.

In his statement, Obama called on US communications regulator the Federal Communications Commission to adopt policies that preserve the openness of the internet and mean that online services are not consigned to "a 'slow lane'" if they elect not to pay ISPs a fee. He also called for FCC policies to prevent blocking or throttling of content and provide for greater transparency.

"I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online," Obama said.

"If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialised services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital. But combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness," he said.

Ansip said that Obama had used "the wording of the European Parliament" in his statement. Earlier this year the European Parliament voted in favour of new net neutrality rules as part of their wider support for reforms to the EU's telecoms market.

The European Commission had last year published proposals to boost net neutrality in Europe amid concerns that ISPs were blocking or slowing down services provided by their competitors. The Parliament gave its backing to an amended version of the Commission's plans. A final version of the reforms will only be introduced once the Parliament, Commission and EU's Council of Ministers reach consensus on the wording.

Under the plans backed by MEPs, ISPs would be under a general requirement to treat content equally when delivering it across its network. However, the proposals contain a number of carve outs that allow ISPs to deviate from the general 'net neutral' position.

ISPs would be permitted to block or slow down the internet to enforce a court order, preserve network security or prevent temporary network congestion. If such "traffic management measures" are used, they must be "transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate" and "not be maintained longer than necessary", according to the Parliament's proposals.

In addition, ISPs and content providers would be able to reach agreement on the provision of 'specialised services' where the quality of service is higher than normal, providing that the provision of those services does not interfere with the internet speeds promised to other customers

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