European Commission’s Net Neutrality Proposals Cause Concern

Kroes claims she is bringing net neutrality to Europe with the Commission’s regulation, but others are concerned she is doing the opposite

The European Commission has unveiled a proposed regulation that it believes would bring about net neutrality for all citizens, whilst attempting to end roaming charges for good.

But some within the Commission are concerned about the language used to define net neutrality and whether the regulation would enshrine it in law at all.

Net neutrality – a chimera?

euro mouse europe money © Julien Tromeur ShutterstockThe Commission said it would be outlawing blocking and throttling of the Internet, “regardless of the cost or speed of [citizens’] internet subscription”. But the regulation also allows “a limited number of reasonable traffic management measures”

“Reasonable traffic management encompasses prevention or impediment of serious crimes, including voluntary actions of providers to prevent access to and distribution of child pornography,” the regulation reads.

“Minimising the effects of network congestion should be considered reasonable provided that network congestion occurs only temporarily or in exceptional circumstances.”

Some onlookers are also worried about the language used by the Commission when talking about rules surrounding ISPs’ work with “content, applications and service providers”.

“Providers of content, applications and services and providers of electronic communications to the public should therefore be free to conclude specialised services agreements on defined levels of quality of service as long as such agreements do not substantially impair the general quality of internet access services.”

This could allow Internet companies and the ISPs to form deals that would give certain services preference over others – the opposite of net neutrality.

According to leaks from the EDRI, the Commission’s justice department (DG JUST) was not happy with the neutrality plans back in July. “If not properly ring-fenced, the unlimited contractual freedom of content providers to agree on priority treatment of their content with ISPs will lead to unintended anti-competitive and discriminatory consequences in the medium-longer term,” the opinion document read.

“Reduced competition at the level of content providers and, possibly, in the longer run, also at the level of ISPs as such, would ultimately lead to reduced content choice for Internet users/consumers.”

Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission who is leading the charge on a harmonised telecoms market, today justified her plans, saying:“All networks and technologies are different. So are consumer needs; therefore subscriptions with different internet speeds or data volumes remain possible.”

And the Commission said the regulation was passed “in full, unamended, unanimously” by the College of Commissioners yesterday. There was “overwhelming support for the net neutrality element”.

As for roaming, the EC won’t be forcing operators to cut charges out completely. Instead, it will ban incoming call charges from 2014 and take a light-touch approach to those offering “Roam Like At Home” plans.

“If your operator does not offer ‘Roam Like At Home’ – you can take matters into your own hands to avoid roaming charges. When you travel you can simply choose another provider who will give you better rates using same SIM card, same bill.”

If all operators decide not to offer cheaper plans, this proposal could backfire.

Member states will meet to discuss the EC’s proposals next month.

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