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Swedes Tussle Over Net Neutrality

EU guidelines require telecom operators to treat all web traffic equally

January 4, 2017 | Mobile | Telecom

Sweden’s telecom regulator, Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), is cracking down on mobile operator Telia for offering free access to Facebook and Spotify for customers who have topped their data limits. While PTS has yet to issue a final ruling on the matter, it has stated that Telia’s campaigns are in violation of EU rules on net neutrality, because Telia is not treating all internet traffic equally.

PTS has given Telia until January 4, 2017, to adjust their offerings to be in line with EU net neutrality guidelines, which prohibit telecom operators from zero-rating in cases when all digital services are blocked because the customer has reached their data cap.

While the EU acknowledges that there may be exceptions, the rule is meant to prevent telecom operators from offering a market-leading service, like Facebook, for free, while charging customers for access to its competitors.

PTS first started investigating Telia’s two promotional offers last May, following fierce criticism from local media companies. Representatives from 27 Swedish newspapers, radio and TV stations published a statement arguing that by favoring certain apps over others, Telia’s campaigns were a direct attack on the idea of an open internet. They further claimed that the agreement would give Facebook and Telia an unfair advantage over other media and telecom companies, respectively.

Telia is already Sweden’s largest mobile service provider, but its market share has declined steadily over the past few years. According to PTS data, Telia accounted for 35.8% of all mobile voice and data subscriptions in Sweden as of H1 2016, down from 41.1% in H1 2010. It’s likely that Telia’s zero-rating deals for Facebook and Spotify are an attempt to reverse the decline in its subscriber base.

Based on eMarketer estimates, Sweden has the highest mobile phone Facebook user penetration rate in Western Europe and the third-highest in the world, at 56.7% of mobile phone users in 2016. IIS’s (Internetstiftelsen i Sverige) annual report placed mobile Facebook usage in Sweden even higher, at 68% as of April 2016, but its figure only includes smartphone owners.

IIS’s report also showed that Spotify usage in Sweden is widespread, with nearly half (48%) of internet users ages 12 and up using the music streaming service weekly.

—Jasmine Enberg

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