Last updated: June 6, 2011 - 9:03am
If Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype, the Internet communications company, goes through, supporters of network neutrality may be losing a standard-bearer.
In Europe, Skype has been the chief litmus test for measuring the openness of mobile networks. The results so far have been resoundingly negative. Most European mobile operators block Skype from their networks or impose arbitrary charges on consumers wanting to use the free service from their cellphones. This runs counter to the concept of net neutrality, which calls for the equal treatment by networks of all Internet traffic, regardless of content. Skype executives have complained loudly to European regulators in Brussels for more than a year, describing the carriers’ policies as a form of economic discrimination. And the regulators have been sympathetic. In April, a month before Microsoft announced the deal with Skype, the European commissioner for telecommunications, Neelie Kroes, warned operators to stop blocking or imposing fees on Skype before the end of the year or risk unspecified sanctions. But assuming that Microsoft acquires Skype — the transaction requires approval by the competition authorities in the United States and Europe — Skype’s interests may take a back seat to Microsoft’s larger goals. Unlike Skype, Microsoft views mobile carriers as customers for mobile phones using the Microsoft operating system, which will soon gain wider carriage as part of new models by Nokia, as well as for Internet protocol television and Lync, a unified communications server.
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