Mobile operators call for action on content providers

European mobile operators are gearing up to lobby the European Commission as it considers net neutrality. Operators have become increasingly frustrated at online content providers who eat up bandwidth without making a contribution to the investment needed in the underlying network.

Over the past few months, executives from Europe's leading operators have voiced a desire to charge content providers fees that vary according to the amount of bandwidth or the quality of service they require.

Francisco Roman, the president of Vodafone Spain, is the latest executive from a European mobile operator to speak out. At a conference this week in Madrid, he expressed skepticism at the US approach to net neutrality regulation that "suggests erecting walls" between operators and content providers in the name of the open internet. The implication is that a commercial relationship between the two sides would work better.

Roman emphasized the importance of the debate and how a disconnection between levels of consumption and payment is not sustainable. Operators must be allowed to introduce differential pricing. "If this does not happen then end-users themselves will have to pay the additional costs," he said.

Roman added that Vodafone is set to make a submission to a public consultation on net neutrality that has been announced by the EU information commissioner Neelie Kroes. Other operators are likely to do the same. The EU adopted a new regulatory framework in 2009 which included regulation on net neutrality. However, the new regulation is geared up for consumer protection rather than to referee the relationship between operators and content providers.

Speaking earlier this month, Kroes said any further regulation must address particular problems. "I am not a police officer in search of a busy corner," she said. Nevertheless, she did announce the public consultation.

Mobile operators will lobby hard on net neutrality. In the past few months, both Vodafone CEO Francisco Colao and Cesar Alierta, chairman and CEO of Telefonica have spoken up on the subject.

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