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Is the evaluation of the net neutrality rules balanced? The European Commission thinks so

We asked the European Commission if it’s possible to do independent research with colored glasses. They claim we have nothing to worry about.

Researchers with colored glasses

In an open letterThe background to our letter to the European Commission, we expressed our concerns about the study into the implementation of the net neutrality rules. Our concerns focus on the possible conflicts of interest of the lawyers in charge of the study, as well as the risk of an unbalanced report. The lawyers work for Bird & Bird, which is the same law firm that is assisting T-Mobile in our court case around the practice of zero-rating.

‘Nothing to worry about’, says the European Commission

The European Commission’s reply was surprisingly speedy and extensive. In her reactionHere's the letter from the European Commission she tries to convince us that all is well. The Commission writes for instance that there are all sorts of rules that the researchers are bound by and which should guarantee their independence and impartiality. For instance, the documents that are central to the study should be stored safely, the lawyers should be transparent about the court cases they’re involved in, and regulators should be able to check that ‘all the facts, cases and case law have been represented fully and correctly’.

Questions about the validity of the presented results  is damaging to the credibility of and confidence in European legislation.

Better to prevent risks in advance

We appreciate the letter by the Commission but we think that they can do better. We have therefore written the Commission a new letter in which we offer two solutions to prevent potential conflicts of interest in the future. First of all, a study into specific rules should not be conducted by a law firm that, during the study, is involved in a court case about those same rules. The Commission claims that this criterion would mean only researchers with solely theoretical knowledge would qualify. We think this an exaggeration.

If this criterion can’t be met, then the Commission should at least make sure that the lawyers who are involved in a particular study work at a different location than their colleagues working on an ongoing case that touches on the same subject. Regarding the study into the net neutrality rules, it just so happens that several of the lawyers involved in the study for the Commission, work from Bird & Bird’s offices in The Hague. And this just happens to be the same office where the lawyer works that represents T-Mobile in our zero-rating case…

Curious about the report

Even though our suggestions deal mainly with how to sensibly conduct research into the effects of European law, we are of course most of all curious about the evaluation of the net neutrality rules. It isn’t completely clear when the Commission will publish the results, but we will examine them critically. Because there is one thing that should be obvious from the evaluation: the current rules don’t protect us against practices like zero rating.

This article was translated from Dutch by Bits of Freedom volunteer Tim Rijk.

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