Regulation

European Parliament Votes On Net Neutrality Rules Today

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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MEPs are to vote whether to go ahead with telecoms rules that net neutrality campaigners say are fatally flawed

MEPs are set for a vote on Tuesday that net neutrality campaigners say is critical to the future of an Internet that presents fair opportunities to all players.

In question are proposed regulations (PDF) that would amend the rules currently governing telecommunications services in Europe, and which have the stated aim of simplifying diverse regulations across the EU and protecting the “open Internet”.

Networking globe

While the proposed rules are intended to enshrine in law the concept of network neutrality – the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated in the same way – campaigners argue it leaves open loopholes that would allow telecoms companies to give certain services preferential treatment.

Those campaigners, who include the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, are backing a number of amendments to the current proposal, which they say would close these loopholes. It’s these amendments that are being considered in Tuesday’s vote.

A number of private companies are also urging MEPs to vote in favour of the amendments, arguing any threat to net neutrality would result in barriers for start-ups, while incurring additional costs for established companies.

“These problems jeopardise the future of the startup innovation and economic growth in the EU,” wrote Barbara van Schewick, a law professor at Stanford Law School, in an open letter signed by a number of companies. “They also create barriers for US startups and businesses seeking to enter the EU market.”

Companies including BitTorrent, Kickstarter, Netflix, Reddit, Soundcloud, Tumblr and WordPress signed van Schewick’s letter.

‘Limited protections’

The EFF said in a statement last week that the unamended text would “result in limited net neutrality protections”.

For his part, Berners-Lee said in a blog post that the current regulations, without amendments, would “threaten innovation, free speech and privacy, and compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy”.

The loopholes being targeted by campaigners include one which would permit the paid prioritisation of Internet traffic for “specialised services” that require “specific levels of quality”, with examples including IPTV, high-definition videoconferencing, and health care services such as telesurgery.

Campaigners fear such exceptions would be open to abuse due to ambiguities in the way the current text of the proposed regulations is written.

Key vote

However, if MEPs vote in favour of the amendments, the bill will go back to the European Council to be amended, meaning a further delay before it can pass into EU law.

MEPs are under pressure not to introduce such a delay because another part of the proposed regulations, which would abolish mobile roaming charges within the EU by 2017, has strong support.

Net neutrality is already protected by law in some EU member states, namely the Netherlands, Slovenia and Finland, while in other countries, such as Belgium, it is legal for access providers to “zero rate” certain services, meaning users don’t pay for the data used to access those services.

The US adopted net neutrality provisions earlier this year in the face of opposition from telecoms companies including Verizon and AT&T.

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