Euro ISPs to Bill Customers for Cyber Crime Costs

Possibly setting a European precedent, Internet service providers (ISPs) in the Netherlands say costs for Internet access will rise significantly due to cyber crime regulation.

The Dutch ISPs say they are forced to install expensive network monitoring equipment. The cost for a medium-size access provider will be around 1.5 million guilders (US$600,000), and larger ISPs would face higher expenses, said the Vereniging van Nederlandse Internet Providers (Association of Dutch Internet service providers - NLIP).

"As a result the cost of Internet access will rise 20 to 25 percent," said Hans Leemans, director of the NLIP. The deadline for installing the equipment is April.

According to the 1998 Telecomwet (Telecom act), Dutch ISPs are required to make their networks ready for surveillance by law enforcement. A draft convention on cyber crime prepared by the Council of Europe proposes similar legislation.

"If the convention is taken literally then the potential implications are enormous," said Joe McNamee, spokesperson for EuroISPA, the association of Internet service providers in the European Union. Besides monitoring equipment, ISPs would have to buy storage hardware. "That would make it even more expensive," Leemans said.

Making the customer pay is only natural, McNamee said. "If the government doesn't foot the bill, I don't know where else the money would come from."

McNamee did stress that the Council of Europe's document is not finished. "This is one of the gaps in the convention as it stands. The surveillance article could mean very little, but if the ISP is supposed to keep track of everything it's huge," McNamee said.

ISPs face different challenges and costs, depending on their setup, said Sjoerd van der Maaden, manager of customer services at business ISP ISION Internet BV, a subsidiary of Hamburg, Germany-based ISION Internet AG. Van der Maaden sits on a NLIP workgroup on cyber surveillance.

"Tapping Internet traffic gets more arduous when an ISP has large volumes of traffic, a widespread network, and offers various services like leased lines, cable Internet, and DSL (digital subscriber line)," Van der Maaden said.

Users aren't upset. "As long as everybody has to pay, I guess we will have to as well," said Ruud Smeets, chief commercial officer at Amsterdam-based Internet investment company Newconomy NV, connected to the Internet via a 2M-bit-per-second leased line from Versatel Telecom NV.

Smeets does foresee more competition among connectivity providers. "It gives ISPs a new way to come up with pricing stunts. The one that has its costs under control will be first to discount rates."

The Vereniging van Nederlandse Internet Providers (NLIP) in The Hague, the Netherlands is on the Web at http://www.nlip