The new Republican leaders in congress have shown little appetite for passing a new law that would force internet service providers to adopt a position of “net neutrality,” which would ban them from discriminating between different types of content or services. Now, there seems to be new hesitation among European regulators as well.
At a conference in Brussels, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes indicated there’s not muchÂ interestÂ in new regulation over net neutrality in Europe. Her comments Thursday were her first on the issue in several months, and, together with those out of Washington in recent days,Â suggest thatÂ there won’t be any legislation regarding net neutrality–on either side of the Atlantic–for at least several months.
Kroes emphasized that the European telecom regulatory framework provides for “many competitive internet offers, and easier switching,” unlike the U.S. situation. Thus, Europe is “avoiding the emergence of monopolistic gatekeepers which could create serious dangers for net neutrality.”
Kroes also sees Europeans as being empowered in a way that U.S. consumers aren’t. “Consumers should not underestimate their own power in shaping this situation,” she said. “I say to those people who are currently cut off from Skype: vote with your feet and leave your mobile provider. The message will be most powerful when it comes from both the bottom-up and the top-down.”
But competition alone isn’t enough, she added. Consumers “need to be effectively informed about traffic-management practices and to be able to easily switch to alternative operators if they are not satisfied.”
In the U.S., activists have been pushing for a federal agency, such as the Federal Communications Commission, to regulate internet service providers and prevent them from managing netÂ traffic in a way that favors some services and websites over — like limiting certain bandwidth-heavy applications, such as file-sharing networks, video, or internet phone calls such as those offered by Skype.Â Phone and cable companies that provide broadband service have opposed net neutrality regulation, saying that it is premature and that they need a free hand to control bandwidth hogs.
With European authorities generally more apt to regulate industries than their U.S. counterparts, the fact that Kroes has publicly said she isn’t interested in a legislative solution–for now–means that internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) may feel emboldened to move ahead with new traffic-management schemes. But if those methods prove controversial, net neutrality could move quickly back into the center of tech policy debate.