July 16, 2012

Netherlands leave gap in net neutrality law for principled providers

Filed under: IT,Religion,Technology by Branko Collin @ 10:06 am

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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May 19, 2012

Christian providers attack Dutch net neutrality

Filed under: IT,Technology by Branko Collin @ 12:23 pm

The Dutch legislation to safeguard net neutrality as it was originally drafted had an escape clause for filtering on ideological grounds, but that clause was struck when the Senate passed the new telecom law last week.

Christian providers Solcon and Kliksafe, who filter the web on evangelical grounds, are now planning to sue the Dutch government as the new law threatens their business model. Webwereld quotes Kliksafe CEO Bert Jan Peters as saying, “this law actually limits a customer’s freedom.”

Although the Dutch telecom law forbids filtering at a network level, it leaves customers the opportunity to use their own filters or a proxy. Peters said, “some of our customers just don’t want to be tempted to disable the filter. They want security and peace of mind.”

Before taking legal action, the providers will first talk with the economics ministry.

Although I can somewhat sympathise with the providers’ stance, you have to wonder where net neutrality will end up if you leave the tiniest of loopholes open. If the providers were allowed to filter on ideological grounds, there should be strict limitations of what they are allowed to offer. In my mind, such a provider would have to a) offer an unfiltered version of every service at the same price or lower, b) advertise these unfiltered services just as prominently as the filtered ones (advertise the difference, for all I care), and c) allow a user to switch from filtered to unfiltered services at no cost.

See also: Court forces paedophile to move to Christian Internet provider

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