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EU wants to ban mobile networks from blocking Skype over 3G

The European Commission wants to guarantee net neutrality by stopping carriers from selectively blocking services.

Image: Peter Byrne/PA Archive

THE EUROPEAN UNION is to consider plans that would make it illegal for mobile phone companies to ban some internet services which users can use to cut down on costs.

Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner responsible for the ‘digital agenda’, says she will propose that mobile carriers be barred from selectively choosing to ban certain services which can undercut their own profits.

The moves come amid complaints that a growing number of mobile carriers throughout Europe are banning users from using services like Skype to call friends, or WhatsApp for text messaging, instead of making traditional phone calls or sending SMS messages.

While mobile carriers are powerless to stop customers from using those services when their phones are connected to a WiFi network, they often block those services so that customers cannot use those options while connected only to the cellular data network.

This morning Kroes told a European Parliament committee that services like Skype or WhatsApp “offer real innovation for consumers”, and said internet providers who deliberately blocked them to ringfence their own profits were simply seeking “to avoid the competition”.

‘A safeguard for every European’

She said the Commission would propose “a safeguard for every European, on every device, on every network: a guarantee of access to the full and open internet, without any blocking or throttling of competing services”.

Kroes’s speech did not refer specifically to mobile networks – meaning traditional broadband providers could also be banned from blocking torrent services, as is practised by some providers to try and cut down on piracy and file-sharing.

Ireland’s communications regulator ComReg has previously confirmed that it has received complaints against one Irish phone network for blocking access to Skype over its data network, which means customers lose the option of using their monthly data allowance to make free calls to other users.

The phenomenon is relatively rare in Ireland – where one network, 48, now offers an internet-only option where customers can use only the likes of WhatsApp or Skype to contact others – but more commonplace in other EU countries.

If it was extended, owners of Apple devices which can send ‘iMessage’ alerts to each other using their data allowance, or users of BlackBerry’s internal messaging service, could also find themselves unable to use some data services and forced to send more expensive SMS messages.

Read: The 25 most popular free iPhone apps of all time

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Gavan Reilly

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