November 24, 2014 / 6:37 PM / 5 years ago

Digital tsar urges Europe not to weaken net neutrality rules

European Union Digital Single Market Commissioner-designate Andrus Ansip of Estonia speaks during his hearing before the European Parliament's Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection at the EU Parliament in Brussels October 6, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s new digital tsar voiced alarm on Monday at the efforts of some EU governments to water down equal Internet access, just as EU plans for “net neutrality” were being echoed in the United States by Barack Obama.

Andrus Ansip, the former Estonian prime minister who this month became Vice President for the Digital Single Market in the European Commission, told Reuters he was “really worried” by new proposals from states to let Internet service providers offer, to some degree, different data speeds to different customers.

“All the traffic has to be treated equally,” Ansip said in an interview. “The Internet has to stay open for everybody.

“The president of the United States is using our wording - the wording of the European Parliament in the United States of America,” he said. Draft legislation in the United States seeks to prevent content providers - big video streaming services, for example - from buying faster delivery than smaller competitors can afford.

Obama made a rare intervention on the issue two weeks ago when he said that no company should be stuck in the “slow lane” because it could not pay for faster access. That sentiment is central to proposals from the EU Commission that were strengthened by EU lawmakers in April.

Ansip’s warning was directed at a proposal from Italy, which holds the rotating chair of EU inter-government meetings, to give network providers some leeway to offer different speeds.

The growth of data-hungry services such as Netflix, Skype and Spotify has strained the capacity of Internet service providers. They now say they should be allowed to give priority to some traffic over others.

“It is allowed to have higher speeds - but not at the expense of others,” said Ansip, who championed high-tech development during his nine years as prime minister, turning ex-Soviet Estonia into a model for a connected economy. “Access to the Internet has to be one of those basic rights.”

Ansip also said big digital service providers - such as Google, which is facing a Commission anti-trust inquiry - needed to be supervised to ensure they did not abuse dominant market positions.

Writing by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Larry King

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