For those living or studying in the Netherlands, the country consistently ranks among the best in Europe for access to high-speed internet and has enjoyed unrestricted and uncensored browsing for some time now, though the country was one of the first in Europe to legislate against P2P downloading and recent data retention laws are gaining more ground.
According to statistics released in March 2015, 9 out of 10 Dutch residents accessed the internet on a daily basis in 2014. The Netherlands are ranked in joint first place with Switzerland for having the most broadband subscriptions in the world per 100 inhabitants. On top of this, the Dutch enjoy among the highest internet speeds in Europe with many homes using 50 Mbit/s or higher, plus no restrictions on bandwidth.
Smartphone and tablet use has skyrocketed among teenagers in the Netherlands in recent years. A June 2015 study by the geo-marketing company GfK Netherlands found that 80% of internet users aged 13 and above own a smartphone, that’s 10.6 million people. What’s more, 96% of 13-19 year-olds have access to the internet, which is a staggering 7% increase from 2014.
Government censorship in the Netherlands is largely non-existent thanks to sustained opposition to restrictive legislation from the House of Representatives. That said, the government has been put under increasing pressure in recent years to tackle copyright infringement and to filter out child pornography.
The Netherlands are not a member of the OpenNet Initiative, which monitors and reports on internet surveillance and filtering, and includes several academic institutions from the UK, the US, and Canada.
The Pirate Bay
In early 2012, the Dutch internet service providers Ziggo and XS4ALL were forced to block Pirate Bay in a lawsuit brought against them by the Bescherming Rechten Entertainment Industrie Nederland (BREIN), the organization in the Netherlands which oversees the rights of the entertainment industry. BREIN accused the Pirate Bay of multiple copyright infringements, which led to a widespread questioning of the use of P2P torrenting in the country, and surprisingly, an even more stringent interrogation of BREIN’s operation as a trade association. In response to the lawsuit, the Pirate Bay labelled BREIN a “corrupt organization” and critics argued that the ban on the torrent index giant was ineffective in terms of P2P traffic volumes. Several months after the case, internet providers KPN, UPC, T-Mobile, and Tele2 were also required to block access to the Pirate Bay.
Two years later, a Dutch court reversed the initial ruling, allowing Ziggo and XS4ALL to unblock the Pirate Bay. Shortly after the reversal, UPC came to an agreement with BREIN and also unblocked access. However, BREIN appealed the reversal with Hoge Raad, the most authorial court in the Netherlands, arguing that the decision is in breach of European law.
When it comes to piracy, many Dutch residents consider P2P and torrenting to be an acceptable and legal way of sharing files, though the government has faced increasing pressure from copyright holders to support their claims of copyright infringement. To compensate record labels and film production companies, the government introduced a piracy tax in 2013 for blank media like CDs and writable DVDs, and for various storage devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and PCs.
Net neutrality & data retention
In 2011, the House of Representatives voted for net neutrality by law, which came into action in 2012 after being ratified by the Senate. The Netherlands became the second country in the world, after Chile, to legislate in favour of data equality, whereby ISPs do not discriminate according to user, platform, content, website, application, connected device(s), or mode of communication. Because of this legislation, ISPs are protected from lawsuits from companies in the entertainment industry as has been the case in numerous other European countries.
Net neutrality is inculcated in the so-called Telecommunicatiewet, or Telecommunications Act, which prohibits the blocking of any internet content and the overall unequal treatment of online content.
In May 2015, the Dutch Senate passed legislation requiring ISPs to notify the Dutch Data Protection Authority (“DPA”) about violations to data security. The bill strengthens the existing Dutch Data Protection Act, allowing the government to impose sanctions on websites that are seen to breach data security. Under the new law, ISPs and other data controllers are required to notify the DPA or face hefty fines. The bill still requires a Dutch Royal Decree before being set into motion and it is expected to come into effect on 1 January 2016.
Until recently, telecommunication companies and ISPs in the Netherlands were required by law to retain phone call data for one year and internet traffic logs for six months, under the 2006/24/EC directive of the European Union. In March 2015, a judge in the Hague found the data retention law to breach individual privacy and the legislation was scrapped. The Dutch security and justice ministry said that it was considering appealing the decision, though as of yet a date for appeal has not been set.
The use of VPNs in the Netherlands is popular and accessible because of the country’s net neutrality laws and lack of online censorship and surveillance. In recent years, the Netherlands’ somewhat progressive attitude towards online privacy has led to the development of the country as a VPN hub.
At present most VPN providers offer multiple servers located within the country. Below we’ve listed six of our favourite providers especially for use in the Netherlands.
BTGuard’s VPN service is for those who want to encrypt all of their internet traffic, including browsing, messaging, and P2P downloads. Their VPN uses 256-bit AES encryption with the OpenVPN and PPTT protocols. They have servers in the Netherlands, Canada, and Singapore, and they do not retain user traffic logs.
BTGuard’s BitTorrent Proxy feature allows subscribers to change the IP address specifically for torrent transfers. The feature can be activated within your BitTorrent client or using BTGuard’s own software, which has been developed specifically for use by uTorrent users. Note that unlike VPN, the proxy does not encrypt your traffic, and if you live in a location with strict anti-piracy laws in place, it is recommended that you use the VPN instead.
Their VPN package costs $9.95 per month, while the torrent proxy is $6.95 per month.
Pros: Bitcoins accepted, unlimited bandwidth, servers in the Netherlands, no data logs.
Cons: Limited server availability.
VPN.AC have been around since 2009 and are based currently in Romania. They are run by Netsec Interactive Solutions, a professional IT security company that takes online privacy and data security very seriously.
Their VPN service uses AES 256-bit encryption to mask your IP address and to ensure total anonymity while online. Connection logs are retained for one day to provide support and troubleshooting. Traffic logs are not retained. What’s more, VPN.AC do not allow the use of third party tracking tools, such as Google Analytics and “Like” features. They offer the following protocols: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, PPTP.
VPN.AC have a broad server range with nodes in the US, the UK, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Romania, Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, and Singapore.
Their Windows client allows users to toggle easily between the different protocols, nodes, and ports, which allows users to overcome the more restrictive firewalls.
Prices vary according to the duration of your plan. A 1 month plan costs $9, a 3 month plan costs $24 ($8 a month), 6 months cost $36 ($6 a month), while a year long subscription is the best value for money at $58 ($4.80 per month).
Pros: No traffic logs, VPN nodes in 16 countries, 6 simultaneous connections allowed; strong encryption
Cons: No native iOS app
IPVanish are one of the largest and most reputable VPN providers in the world. Currently, they boast more than 200 servers in over 60 countries. They have their headquarters in the US.
Their VPN package uses the following protocols: OpenVPN (UDP or TCP), L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP, while their easy-to-use Windows client allows for switching between servers, ports, and protocols, and includes a timer function for automatic IP switching.
They do not retain connection or traffic logs and their are no limits on bandwidth.
Their cheapest payment option is the one year plan at $77.99 ($6.49 per month). Otherwise, monthly tariffs are $10.
Pros: Large server range, torrents allowed on all endpoints, wide range of alternative payment options including Bitcoin, PayPal, and PaySafeCard.
Cons: Only 2 simultaneous connections allowed, limited in-app options.
ibVPN are considerably smaller than IPVanish, though they still offer 95 servers in 39 countries, with new locations added regularly. They are currently based in Romania, which is a good option for those concerned about privacy thanks to the country’s lenient approach to online data.
Their VPN service covers the following protocols: PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN, and SSTP, and uses 256 bit encryption. ibVPN also offer a Smart DNS service for those who only want to access geo-restricted content, and a BitTorrent service for P2P file sharing.
They do not retain connnection or traffic logs, and their Killswitch feature in the software client avoids users being exposed in the unlikely event of a VPN disconnection.
Their VPN+Smart DNS plan costs $7.95 or $7.67 per month (based on server range), while the Smart DNS alone costs $4.95 per month. For the P2P VPN plan (without Smart DNS), you’ll also pay $4.95 per month. Annual billing cycles are discounted.
Pros: Wide range of servers (in 39 countries) and services (VPN, Smart DNS, and P2P).
Cons: Only 1-2 simultaneous connections allowed per account
CactusVPN are a relatively small VPN provider with servers in only four countries: the US, the UK, Netherlands, and Romania. Despite this, they have a solid reputation for quick and reliable encryption. Currently, they cover the following protocols: PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN and SSTP, with all but PPTP offering encryption with up to 256 bit AES keys.
CactusVPN do not retain connection or traffic logs and they do not implement restrictions on bandwidth. What’s more, they offer a range of anonymous payment options, including WebMoney and Yandex.
All CactusVPN packages cost a below average $4.99 per month. CactusVPN likewise offer Smart DNS, which can be purchased separately for $4.99, or as part of a VPN+Smart DNS bundle package for $6.99 per month. Bear in mind that the provider regularly runs sales and offers, which see their tariffs priced at a tiny $1 per month.
Pros: Anonymous payment options, no bandwidth limits, free trial, 30-day money-back guarantee, excellent option for small budget
Cons: Limited server range
PureVPN is the largest of all the providers mentioned, with 450 servers in 121 countries across 6 continents (and counting). Currently, PureVPN is based in Hong Kong, which is not subject to the same data retention and censorship legislation as mainland China. PureVPN offers Smart DNS as an add-on to their VPN package.
Their VPN plan provides 256 SSL or AES encryption covering the following protocols: PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, SSTP, OpenVPN, and IKEv2.
There are no bandwidth restrictions and PureVPN do not collect connection or traffic logs, and allow users to connect on up to five separate devices at the same time, making the service a pretty ideal choice for families and big households. Furthermore, they provide a range of anonymous payment options, including BitCoin and WebMoney.
They offer the following three payment plans: 1 month at $9.95, 6 months at $7.49 per month, and 12 months at $4.16 per month.
Pros: Up to 5 simultaneous connections, 7-day money-back guarantee, Hong Kong-based (preferable for privacy).
Cons: Bandwidth limitation for trial plan