The audience sitting in front of Neelie Kroes at ARCEP’s conference on net neutrality last week was largely European Internet and telecom executives and their regulators, but perhaps the more appropriate audience is located some 4000 miles to the west. Drawing on her deep experience as former EU Commissioner for Competition, the current Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Kroes delivered a thoughtful and analytical speech that recognizes the critical importance of following a cautious, balanced and flexible policy framework for the Internet.

In her speech, Commissioner Kroes opens by endorsing fully the four policy principles that have guided the FCC’s treatment of the Internet for the last five years, and she adds her hearty endorsement for the FCC’s recently-proposed transparency principle. But Commissioner Kroes then takes direct aim at the restrictive nondiscrimination principle that the FCC is proposing now to apply to broadband service. In her words,

“some are interpreting [this] non-discrimination principle as essentially preventing telecom operators from seeking commercial payments or agreements with content providers which deliver their highly capacity-consuming services through broadband networks and require a certain level of service for their transmission to be effective. That prospect raises a number of delicate and complex issues. These issues must be very carefully assessed before the EU gives any possible regulatory response.”

The Commissioner then goes on to explain how she intends to approach the issues raised in this debate. First, she counsels against proposing solutions before determining the extent of potential problems or evaluating how measures may “hinder new efficient business models from emerging.” And sums up this approach by saying, “I will not be someone who comes up with a solution first and then looks for a problem to attach it to.”

In closing, Commissioner Kroes provides the customer-focused principles that she intends to use in measuring the appropriateness of any regulatory policy toward the Internet:

1. Freedom of expression is fundamental
2. Transparency is non-negotiable
3. We need investment in efficient and open networks
4. Fair competition (amongst all members of the Internet value chain)
5. Support for innovation

AT&T could not agree more, and hopes that the U.S. will exercise the same judgment and follow the same deliberative path as Commissioner Kroes has outlined for Europe.

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