Netherlands leave gap in net neutrality law for principled providers

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Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Economic Affairs, has written a letter to evangelical Internet access provider Solcon that their filtering system does not run afoul of the Dutch net neutrality law that was recently passed by the Senate.

Solcon provides filtered access to the Internet for clients who do not want to be exposed to values other than Dutch Reformed ones (the Dutch Reformed Church is part of the Protestant Church).

When the law was passed, Solcon threatened to sue the state, although it first wanted to talk to the minister. According to Computable, Maxime Verhagen has now sent a letter (PDF) to Solcon telling the provider that the way it has set up its filters, with clients being in full control of switching the filters on and off, and clients not getting to pay less for filtered access, does not violate the law.

Back in May I outlined three conditions that I felt could guarantee net neutrality while at the same time allowing providers to filter. They were 1) the provider should offer an unfiltered service no more expensive than the unfiltered one, 2) the service should get equal prominence in advertising, and 3) users should be allowed to switch between these services at no cost. Given the nature of Solcon, a provider with evangelical rather than profit seeking goals, my second condition is obviously of less concern, so this seems like a good decision.

The tricky bit for lawyers of more profit-motivated providers to decipher is whether the minister’s answer now leaves ways to sell filtered Internet access to clients without giving them a straight discount. The minister does not single out Solcon in his letter, but speaks of ‘Internet providers’ in general, and though his second condition seems to suggest that he will not allow the use of rate differentiation to lean on clients, the fact that he explicitly mentions lower rates seems to leave room for other forms of enticement or coercion.

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