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Court ruling: StreamOn from Telekom violates network neutrality

The StreamOn offer from Telekom Deutschland is partly illegal, the administrative court in Cologne ruled today and rejected an urgent application from the mobile operator. The court thus agrees with the Federal Network Agency's point of view. The regulatory authority declared the telecommunications product to be partially illegal over a year ago and demanded that it be adapted to European law.

On the one hand, Telekom is reducing the transmission quality of videos to SD quality in certain packages, thereby violating the principle of equal treatment. On the other hand, the offer can only be used in full in Germany; when accessing partner services from other EU countries, the data transfer is offset against the data volume. In both points, Telekom is clearly violating the EU rules on net neutrality and the roam-like-at-home principle, with which the EU has largely abolished roaming charges.

Telekom treats like differently

In a press release, the court stated that the principle of net neutrality obliges providers of internet access services to "treat all traffic equally when providing internet access services". On the other hand, the throttling of the transmission speed for streaming services violates, which cannot be undermined by tricks of the terms and conditions.

The findings on use abroad are similarly clear. "According to this, no additional fees should be charged for roaming services in other European countries in comparison with the domestic end customer prices," the court writes. "Because Telekom only excludes the streamed data volume from being offset against the respective data volume for domestic use, it does not meet these requirements."

So-called zero-rating offers such as StreamOn take access to selected online services, such as Spotify or Youtube, from the monthly data volume. That alone is already highly problematic because the practice is fundamentally discriminatory and thus undermines net neutrality. Under certain conditions, however, this business model is compatible with EU requirements.

Millions in sales of illegal products

But Telekom does not even want to adhere to this framework. In the past she asserted that the offer would otherwise not pay off and threatened to discontinue it. It remains to be seen whether she will carry out her threat or challenge today's verdict. A request to the company has so far remained unanswered.

"Deutsche Telekom's StreamOn product was on the market for 20 months," says network neutrality expert Thomas Lohninger from the digital NGO epicenter.works. During this time, the group earned millions and would only have to pay a fine of a few 100,000 euros if the judgment becomes final. Such small amounts, which companies like Telekom pay out of the postage, are an invitation to violations. The Federal Network Agency did not even exhaust the maximum penalty of 500,000 euros, says Lohninger. "With these fines and such long decision-making processes, it is clear why Germany has one of the most broken telecommunications markets in Europe".

Update, November 21: The Federal Network Agency sent us a statement:

The Administrative Court of Cologne rejected Telekom Deutschland GmbH's application for an order of suspensive effect in the context of interim legal protection with a ruling dated November 20, 2018. After a summary examination, the court entered into the matter in detail and determined the legality of the orders. A final statement is reserved for the main proceedings.

The decisive factor for the enforcement of the order is not exhaustion of the legal process in the main proceedings, but the interim legal protection proceedings. In these proceedings, Telekom Deutschland GmbH is free to appeal against the above-mentioned decision. As you mentioned, the Federal Network Agency threatened a fine of € 100,000 per violation in the relevant order, which is used to enforce enforcement.

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About the author


Tomas grew up in Vienna, worked there for various providers and also studied political science. He received his journalistic training at Heise-Verlag, where he wrote for Mac & i, c't and Heise Online. He can be reached at +49 30 577148268 or [email protected] (PGP key) and tweets sometimes more, sometimes less at @tomas_np
Published 11/20/2018 at 7:33 PM