The self-important telecoms companies were gently put in their place once again by EU communications commissioner, Neelie Kroes, surely one of the best EU mandarins we’ve ever had.

Ditch your tedious moaning about ‘net neutrality’, she told a crowd in Paris, and don’t even think about throttling the clutch of hugely popular websites (YouTube, Google, Skype) in the hope of somehow generating revenue from the companies that own them. That’s my summary anyway.

“Any commercial or traffic management practice that does not follow objective and even-handed criteria, applicable to all comparable services, is potentially discriminatory in character,”  she said. “Discrimination against undesired competitors (for instance, those providing Voice over the Internet services) should not be allowed.”

Net neutrality is really an argument over the price of co-operation, which the telecoms companies have convinced themselves is cutting them out of revenue, while the Googles of the world clean up. This is utter drivel of the sort that usually only gets listened to in free-market fixated US, odd because it’s not even a very free market argument.

At worst it leads to monkeying around with traffic (one reason why Skype is engineered to be hard to spot, ahem, block), and in its most benign form it assails anyone who will listen with self-serving arguments about big companies not being paid enough.

Most of these telecoms companies are products either of the national telecoms carrier age that started in the 19th century and is now long gone, or the 1990s carrier boom that saw many privatised and fused to create super-carriers. Share prices went skyward until people started noticing that some of these new companies had names like, um, MCI WorldCom.

Their argument that nowadays they are the enablers for the parasistic Googles of the Internet has three huge flaws. First, people turn on the Internet to use applications and services, not for the hell of it. Who cares about the pipe? Second, the carriers invested in those pipes as if they were an end in themselves. More fool they then. Third, and most importantly, increasingly, companies such as Google are bypassing them anyway with direct connections.

According to Arbor Networks (which monitors Internet traffic), as well as making up and ever greater portion of total Internet traffic, Google is rapidly building direct connections between its data cantres and those of other key traffic centres, cutting out the carriers altogether.

The company’s Atlas Obervatory report from last October also found that Internet traffic is being concentrated in fewer and fewer companies, many of which are not global telcos. It’s hard to see someone like Verizon being cut out altogether, but the plain fact is that large numbers of carriers are rapidly being pushed to the traffic periphery.

In the end, being a player on the Internet means doing something useful, not simply being a business with bills to pay and an over-developed sense of entitlement.  The telcos think they built the Internet by rolling out fibre. On the contrary, they built boring phone networks. The Internet was invented by a very different crowd with different ideas about what is important.

"Users should be able to access and distribute the content, services and applications they want."  You tell ‘em Neelie.