Europe has approved ‘net neutrality,’ but not the kind advocates wanted

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Europe passes controversial net neutrality legislation that could create Internet fast lanes.

Proponents of net neutrality suffered a major setback Tuesday when European politicians voted against enshrining in law the concept of treating all online data equally.

The new legislation was originally designed to ensure an open and level playing field to “protect the right of every European to access Internet content, without discrimination.” In effect, the new rules should have prevented Internet companies from blocking or “throttling” content, services, or apps, and charging companies or people to restore parity. This, potentially, could allow cable companies and other ISPs to favor their own services over competitors, providing so-called fast lanes for their preferred data. There are loopholes that separate out “specialized” or “innovative” services, including Internet TV (e.g. video streaming), high-definition (HD) video conferencing, and some health care services.

These loopholes are perhaps designed to support bandwidth-intensive services such as remote telesurgery, but the language contained within the legislation is vague and open to the creation of so-called “fast lanes”, whereby some companies can pay for faster access, and include this as a premium add-on for some customers. The latter loophole, critics claim, opens the door for big Internet companies to do sweetheart deals with major commercial providers, such as Apple Music or Netflix, leaving smaller competitors at a disadvantage. The proposals and accompanying loopholes were first broached earlier this summer, and opponents have been pushing for amendments to make the language less open to abuse. In a statement posted online, Julia Reda, a member of the European Parliament for the European Pirate Party, called the new law 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,” Reda said. “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.” But Andrus Ansip, the vice president of the EU’s digital single market commission and a supporter of the legislation, argued that it was necessary to push through the new law to avoid “a risk of delays, not only (of) months, but years,” in the implementation of rules for a pan-European digital market, delays that would put European companies, and consumers, at an even greater disadvantage compared to those in the U.S.

In reference to the so-called “specialized services” caveat, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said: “The specialized services exception allows ISPs to use IP networks for delivery of other online services, distinct from general Internet access that they offer, without complying with the same non-discrimination rules. This means travelers within the union will pay the same as they would in their home country regardless of where they travel in the 28 constituent E.U. states. It is important that the national regulatory authorities take their responsibilities with a consistent and firm application of the rules, and that network operators are fully transparent towards the authorities as well as towards consumers.”

Thus far, consumers have had to pay additional fees on top of their usual contract, though these were capped at €0.20 ($0.30) per MB of data, €0.19 ($0.29) per minute for making calls, €0.05 ($0.15) for receiving calls, and €0.06 ($0.16) for sending text messages.

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