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Can you do independent research with colored glasses?

The European Commission is evaluating how the net neutrality rules have been implemented across Europe. These rules are designed to protect the rights of internet users. To our surprise the evaluation is being carried out by a law firm that frequently represents the big telecom providers.

Evaluation of new net neutrality rules

The European Commission is evaluating the implementation of the net neutrality rules. These are the rules ensuring that users, and not the provider, are free to decide what services to use online. These are the rules designed to make sure that "access to the internet" remains a synonym for "access to the entire internet". The evaluation is vitally important, because many providers throughout Europe are starting to offer subscriptions where the traffic of certain services receive preferential treatment – which would be in violation of the net neutrality rules.

We have asked the European Commission to provide a written confirmation of the impartiality of this study.

Researchers with colored glasses

The study which the evaluation will rely on has been awardedHere's the official "contract award notice" of the European Commission to the law firm Bird & Bird. They'll conduct research in consortium with the research and consultancy company Ecorys. In EU Member States like the Netherlands, Bird & Bird represents most major telecom operators on matters related to the telecommunications regulatory framework, including net neutrality. For example, Bird & Bird represents T-Mobile in the pending court caseRead more about Bits of Freedom's case here Bits of Freedom has initiated against the decision of the Dutch Regulatory Authority ACM to not take action against T-Mobile's zero-rating offer. This court case revolves around the practice of zero-rating and the interpretation of the net neutrality rules that are also the subject of the study.

Questions about the impartiality of evaluation

Although there is no reason to doubt the legal expertise and experience of Bird & Bird, one could and should have concerns about awarding them this particular study. Given the fact that this firm represents telecom operators in conflicts surrounding this legislation, there are reasonable doubts about its independence and impartiality. It raises questions about the validity of the results of the study, and could be damaging to the credibility of and the confidence in the evaluation of the net neutrality provisions by the European Commission and the resulting measures taken to mitigate any issues by the European Commission.

A balanced report is vitally important

A number of European organisations defending users and consumers have asked the European Commission to provide a written confirmation of the impartiality of this study. The confirmation should include a list of all measures taken by the European Commission and/or Bird & Bird to ensure the independence and impartiality of the evaluators conducting the study and the quality of the report. Particularly in light of these problems it is vital that the Commissions presents a balanced report based on the findings of Bird & Bird.

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