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EU Commissioner wants net neutrality plan to protect "openness and liberty" online

Europe needs a definitive net neutrality plan that will guarantee people's right to a free and open Internet, Neelie Kroes, the EU's commissioner for digital policy, has said.

The topic is a very polarising one, Kroes acknowledged during a speech before the European Parliament. But "openness and liberty are values I am determined to defend everywhere," she said.

The basic idea behind net neutrality is that everyone should have equal access to the web. Amazon should not be able to pay to have its website load faster than a family-made e-commerce site, for example, and an ISP should not block or throttle one particular app, like BitTorrent.

Kroes first made a push for net neutrality across the EU, as well as an end to mobile roaming charges, last week. Today, she elaborated on how that might work. Specifically, she said, the EU should abide by four principles: innovation, transparency, choice, and competition.

Though detractors argue that net neutrality rules could stifle innovation, Kroes said that "no EU rules should stand in [the] way" of companies obtaining expanded service. "It's not my job to ban people from buying those services, nor to prevent people from providing them."

"We should allow innovation," she said.

When purchasing Internet service, however, customers should know exactly what they're getting. Details about speed and included services are often "hidden away in long and complex contracts," Kroes said. "That's not good enough. We deserve a clear promise before we sign up."

In addition, customers should have a choice of ISP, and be able to easily switch from one to the other "without countless obstruction," Kroes said. "There are many barriers to switching: like excessive charges, modem hire, or email addresses. We will be looking at those barriers, and removing them."

Meanwhile, ISPs should not be able to block competing services like VoIP offerings from Skype or Whatsapp, which "offer real innovation for consumers," Kroes said.

"The telecoms market is far from complete - and a failure to take coordinated action on net neutrality would shatter the fragile construction," Kroes said. "If we don't address net neutrality, wider problems will arise and tomorrow's innovative services might have to stop at the border."

An EU net neutrality plan will be "a safeguard for every European, on every device, on every network: a guarantee of access to the full and open Internet, without any blocking or throttling of competing services," she concluded.

Kroes said she will submit her plan to the EU's College of Commissioners, which has 27 members, all of whom are assigned responsibility for different policy areas.