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European ISPs aggressively throttling VoIP and P2P traffic

Telecommunications companies in the EU are often using the practice of "traffic management" to block Voice over IP (VoIP) and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing online activity, EU’s Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) said.

The body said it had set the "common" use of the practices as part of their "preliminary conclusions" in analyzing data on traffic management collected from approximately 400 telecommunications operators in and across the EU. BEREC is composed of representatives from each of the national telecoms regulators in all 27 EU countries, including Ofcom in the UK.

"The most commonly reported traffic management practices are the blocking and/or throttling of peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic in fixed and mobile networks, and the blocking of VoIP traffic, especially in mobile networks - usually based on the specific terms of the contract. When blocking/throttling is done on the network, it is usually done through deep packet inspection (DPI)," said a BEREC statement.

Internet Service Providers (ISP) sometimes block or slow users' access to some content during periods of high activity on their networks. This is to ensure that the intensive use of a user of a network to download material does not prevent another user of that network to perform basic tasks such as send or receive email or browse web pages. However, ISPs can also benefit from this type of traffic management by charging content providers who are willing to pay for preferential access to its subscribers or charge users more for less restrictions.

The use of traffic management techniques has been investigated by regulators as a result of its close association with the ongoing debate on net neutrality.

Net Neutrality

The debate over net neutrality has been most lively in the U.S. where telecom companies have said that content producers should share the cost of building and maintaining networks. Opponents claim that the view that the fees paid to ISPs must buy access to all information equally, not a service that gives priority to some content due to agreements between ISPs and content producers.

BEREC said about 250 fixed and 150 mobile operators had responded to its data collection exercise and the results had also shown a new image of "a wide range of commercial and/or technical" traffic management practices" being used by European operators in different national markets. "

BEREC has found a wide range of practices across Europe, and an equally wide range of application methods and policy justifications for them.

About a quarter of respondents provide justifications for certain traffic management practices based on what might be described as "the security and integrity" refers (eg, control of "spam" traffic) - although some of these traffic management measures is best described as techniques for congestion management. For example, in connection with the congestion management, some operators use a focus of "application agnostic" (eg active buffering), while others use application-specific techniques (typically in order to limit specific traffic such as streaming video).

BEREC has previously said that providing consumers with transparent information on quality and restrictive nature of its Internet service is "fundamental", if you want to achieve net neutrality. BEREC’s view is that national regulators should ensure that ISPs provide consumers access to information which is understandable and meaningful, comparable and accurate information to enable them to make informed decisions "about the services."

The regulator said that ISPs are not providing users with sufficient information about their service and traffic management carried out. ISPs should provide consumers with information that contains details about the average speed of your service, such as traffic management can affect the "specific types of services" and be at the forefront of what "specific services" are blocked "leading to consumers who are unable to run the services and applications of their choice," said Ofcom.