Norway gets net neutrality—voluntary, but broadly supported

Norway’s Post and Telecommunications Authority has overseen a working group of ISPs and consumer organization that has hashed out a set of network neutrality principles for the country. Though voluntary, they already appear to command broad support.

Nate Anderson
Ars Technica
Thomas Nortvedt. Photo:

Thomas Nortvedt. Photo:

“Nettnøytralitet” is coming to Norway. Several ISPs, the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority, the Nowegian Cable TV Association, and consumer groups have all signed on today to a new document (PDF) outlining network neutrality principles. Internet users are entitled to a connection with “predefined capacity and quality,” and they can access content without discrimination based on the sending or receiving address. But there are some terrific caveats.

Thomas Nortvedt heads the Norwegian Consumer Council. Although outright Internet discrimination has been largely unknown in Norway, Nortvedt says that it’s important to act anyway as ISPs increasingly become content providers, and conflicts of interest loom.

“With Internet service providers offering their own content and services in competition with other content providers, it is very important to have a set of basic rules that ensure equal access and quality of service,” he said in a statement supporting the new principles. “We cannot risk getting into a situation where Internet service providers give priority to their own IP telephony or IPTV services, say, making it difficult for other content providers to offer an equivalent, high quality service.”

The new rules lay out three guidelines. First, Internet users must be given complete and accurate information about the service they are buying, including capacity and quality. Second, users are allowed to send and receive content of their choice, use services and applications of their choice. and connect any hardware and software that doesn’t harm the network. Finally, the connection cannot be discriminated against based on application, service, content, sender, or receiver.

Within those guidelines, though, ISPs still retain tremendous freedom to act as they choose. The second principle, for instance sounds more than a bit like the FCC’s current Internet policy statement, and it should—it was adapted from the FCC principles. Like the FCC principles, the right to freely use a connection is limited to legal uses, so it does not preclude ISPs from blocking access some P2P file-sharing or all child pornography. In the US, this has already lead ISPs to suggest that even intrusive deep packet inspection of user traffic would be acceptable, so long as the goal was rooting out such illegal uses.

Principle three prohibits traffic discrimination in general, but does allow “traffic management efforts on an operator’s own network to block activities that harm the network, comply with orders from the authorities, ensure the quality of service for specific applications that require this, deal with special situations of temporary network overload or prioritize traffic on an individual user’s connection according to the user’s wishes.”

That’s a pretty tremendous list of exceptions, though it comes with safeguards. While traffic like VoIP and streaming video can be prioritized, it does not appear that other traffic such as legal P2P downloads can actively be slowed (prioritizing other traffic may have this effect, however). The guidelines also say that when network management due to congestion is necessary, it should be done without regard to users of the services they are currently accessing.

The guiding idea here is that, as Nortvedt puts it, “It must be up to individual broadband customers to decide how to use their bandwidth.”

Willy Jensen, the Director General of the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority, noted that ISPs were supportive of this basic principle. “Everyone who endorses these guidelines has made it clear that they support an open Internet on which different providers can compete freely to offer content and services,” he said. “Internet users need to be assured that the Internet service provider they have chosen will not act as a gatekeeper for their Internet use.”


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