EU passes net neutrality laws that leave ‘fast lane’ loopholes

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

EU net neutrality laws fatally undermined by loopholes, critics say.

Net neutrality advocates have slammed the European Parliament today after it voted in favour of Internet ‘fast lanes and slow lanes’, which they say plays into the hands of wealthy and powerful companies. The adopted legislation allows the creation of internet fast lanes for “specialized services” and lets ISPs offer so-called “zero-rating” products — i.e. apps and services that don’t count towards monthly data allowances. However those MEPs who voted in a bid to end roaming charges as soon as possible will likely have to wait until June 2017 to actually see the law in action. Following the vote, the regulations are immediately in force in all EU member states, but national regulators, who are ultimately responsible for overseeing the implementation of the rules, will not be expected to start enforcement for six months Among the exceptions opposed by net neutrality supporters is one which allows providers to offer priority to “specialised services”, providing they still treat the “open” internet equally. Critics of the legislation say that the latter loophole will allow big internet companies to favor certain services in commercial deals. (For example, an ISP could make a deal with Apple so that the streaming service Apple Music is “zero-rated” while Spotify isn’t, coercing that ISP’s customers to use Apple’s products.) And while proponents of the bill say that letting “specialized services” use an internet fast lane makes sense for important devices such as self-driving cars or remote medical operations, critics say the legal language is too vague and will allow big companies to pay for faster access.

The newly-adopted EU legislation also allows ISPs to speed up or slow down traffic depending on what sort of data is being sent — making video calls more important than emails, for example. Julia Reda, MEP for the European Pirate Party, described the legislation as a “broken promise” on net neutrality. “The internet’s open structure is what made it the successful driver of growth and innovation in the digital economy and digital culture that it is today,” said Reda in a statement posted online. “That providers will be allowed to discriminate against certain traffic not only creates a two-tier internet, it also removes incentives for carriers to extend their capacities.” In an open letter penned earlier this week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, described the adopted rules as a threat to “innovation, free speech, and privacy.” He added that they would also “compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy.” The adopted rules are widely seen as far weaker than those approved by the FCC in America. The service allows access for free to sites including Facebook and Wikipedia, but its cut-down nature has prompted the web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, to advise people to “just say no” to it.

Other exceptions include an allowance for ISPs to predict periods of peak demand and introduce “reasonable traffic management measures”, and to group some services into traffic “classes”, which can be sped up or slowed down at will. The European consumer organisation BEUC welcomed the changes but warned that the exceptions would undermine the overall achievement. “A robust net neutrality law involves protections against undue management of traffic and discriminatory commercial practices. What Europe is essentially saying here is that all internet data is born equal, but some is more equal than others.” It said it applauded the new onus on internet service providers to treat traffic equally, but said safeguards against the impact of ‘specialised services’ are not strong enough. “In the end, negotiators also decided not to tackle commercially driven discriminations such as ‘zero rating’, where operators exempt content from data allowances and thereby shepherd users away from competitors’ content. Such increasingly common practices must be addressed.” Mike Weston, the chief executive of data science consultancy Profusion, said that: “The EU’s vote opens the door to an end to net neutrality in Europe that could severely damage tech companies and consumers. “For most tech companies, an end to net neutrality is potentially a disaster.

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