Europe passes controversial net neutrality legislation that could create …

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

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 more to restore parity. 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.

Supporters of net neutrality have accused the European Union of undermining its own net neutrality laws after MEPs voted down amendments aimed at closing loopholes. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should treat all online content equally without blocking or slowing down specific websites on purpose or allowing companies to pay for preferential treatment. 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 — in theory — 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 fast-lanes whereby some companies can pay for faster Internet. 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. The proposals and accompanying loopholes were first mooted earlier this summer, and opponents to the proposals in their current form have been pushing for amendments to make the language less open for abuse.

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. 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. Thus far, consumers have had to pay additional fees on top of their usual contract, though they 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. 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. By seeking to ascribe different values to data and, potentially charging accordingly, it will be more expensive for many tech companies to operate.” In the run-up to the vote, an open letter signed by companies including Etsy, Kickstarter and Tumblr expressed concerns with the proliferation of loopholes and exceptions in the legislation.

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