European Court Backs EU Net Neutrality Rules

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The top court in Europe, the CJEU, has officially backed the European Union’s net neutrality laws that were enacted back in 2015

The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has officially backed the EU law enshrining the principle of an open internet in Europe.

Back in 2015, the European Union enacted net neutrality laws – the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated in the same way, and carriers should not block or slow down traffic, or offer paid fast data routes.

But the net neutrality laws needed to be examined after a Hungarian court had sought guidance in a case involving Hungarian mobile operator Telenor Magyarorszag, Reuters reported.

internet net neutrality (C) Peshkova - Shutterstock

Court ruling

Essentially, the operator in question (Telenor Magyarorszag) had offered its customers preferential or so-called zero-tariff access packages, which meant that the use of certain applications did not count towards consumption.

That case got bumped up to Hungary’s National Media and Infocommunications Authority in 2017, which then ruled the Hungarian mobile operator had violated EU network neutrality rules and ordered it to scrap the offers.

Telenor Magyarorsza then challenged the rulings in a Hungarian court, and the case was eventually passed to the CJEU for its ruling on the matter.

What is net neutrality? Explanation from the experts.

Now in a blow for a telecom carriers that had been hoping for a less restrictive regime, Europe’s highest court on Tuesday gave its backing to the European Union’s net neutrality rules.

“The requirements to protect internet users’ rights and to treat traffic in a non-discriminatory manner preclude an internet access provider from favouring certain applications and services by means of packages enabling those applications and services to benefit from a ‘zero tariff’ and making the use of the other applications and services subject to measures blocking or slowing down traffic,” judges reportedly said.

American repeal

The European stance is completely different to that in the United States.

In 2017 the Trump administration-controlled Federal Communication Commission (FCC) made a controversial decision to roll-back net neutrality laws in the United States.

The FCC was challenged over its decision to overturn the Obama-era rules, and faced a legal challenge in the US federal court system from a number of US states.

A group of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia had asked the appeals court to reinstate the rules, as well as to block the FCC’s effort to pre-empt states from imposing their own rules guaranteeing an open internet.

Mozilla and other tech groups were also part of the US court case.

But in October 2019 the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its mixed ruling on the matter.

It largely upheld the FCC repeal of the net neutrality law, which prevented ISPs in the US from blocking or throttling traffic.

But significantly, the appeals court also ruled that the FCC had overstepped its legal authority when it declared that US states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws.

Yet in February this year, the US Appeals Court ruled that it will not reconsider a ruling made last October that largely upheld the repeal of landmark net neutrality rules.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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