Dutch Offer Preview of Net Neutrality

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from The New York Times,

When Bruno Leenders takes the 50-minute train ride to Amsterdam, he likes to stream blues and funk music through his smartphone. At home, Mr. Leenders, a Dutch technology consultant, watches Steven Seagal action movies on Netflix. Between meetings, he dashes off a few emails.

Mr. Leender’s digital life has not changed all that much in the two years since the Netherlands started demanding that Internet providers treat all traffic equally, the same sort of rules that the United States adopted on Thursday.

His bill has gone up just marginally. He surfs, streams and downloads at the same speed — if not a little faster given the upgrades to Netherlands’ network, already one of the world’s best.

In short, the new law was not the Internet Armageddon that many Dutch telecommunications companies, industry lobbyists and some lawmakers had predicted.

“I can still watch what I want, when I want,” Mr. Leenders said on a half-empty commuter train recently, as he checked his emails and the latest news on his smartphone. “It is not up to any company to tell what I can do online.”

As the United States moves to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, the Netherlands offers a rare case study of what could await American consumers and companies. The Netherlands was the second country in the world to adopt so-called open Internet rules, after Chile.

It is not a perfect comparison.

Still, the Dutch experience — at least in the short term — could be instructive.

As with the American plan, Dutch carriers cannot discriminate among types of content, say by putting the brakes on data-hungry services like movie streaming. Nor can they charge extra for faster speeds and more reliable connections to the Internet’s pipelines, which could give deep-pocketed technology companies an advantage over fledgling start-ups.

And net neutrality opponents made all the same arguments in the Netherlands as they have been in the United States.

But two years later, the Internet business in the Netherlands is still humming along.

Consumers have not cried foul en masse over the costs. Dutch consumer groups say cellphone and cable packages in the last two years have remained relatively stable, with contracts priced at as little as $25 a month for the ability to stream online content. The average cellphone contract in the Netherlands is about one-third the price of an equivalent plan in the United States.

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