Net Neutrality in Europe Set for a Vote

By Steve Anderson March 31, 2014

The idea of net neutrality—the concept that all traffic on a network should be treated equally whether it's going to video streaming sites or email—is a big idea indeed. Whether it's the user who wants to be sure that Netflix will always be on hand or the Internet service provider (ISP) getting concerned about the increasing amount of traffic online, a lot has been made of the traffic generated and its targets online. In Europe, meanwhile, this is about to get a new chunk of decision thanks to a vote through European lawmakers.

The 28 member countries that comprise the European Union are set to get together this Thursday in Brussels for a vote on the topic of digital policy, with a particular focus on net neutrality. Essentially, the rules in question are considering making access to all types of digital media, from simple text to bandwidth-intensive video, equal across the entire spectrum of Internet access, but also in terms of who will pay for such access, and how much will be paid for same.

With groups on all sides drawing intense lobbying efforts, there's a lot at stake in this discussion, and all of it focused on no less a key point than the eventual fate of the Internet as a whole. For instance, some are looking to the lawmakers' efforts to better determine what kind of financial incentives there will be in terms of developing the overall Internet infrastructure in Europe, a pastiche of wireless and wired solutions that doesn't exactly reach all corners of the continent. Early efforts on the European Parliament's part going back to mid-March weren't well-received, and execution of any new rules may prove problematic.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues in the whole affair is something of a universal theme: the issue of who pays for content. Telecom carriers, for example, are tired of funneling content from other vendors for low costs, and want to be able to charge the content providers more to get the content to the users. Carriers regard this as a necessity due to the increased network capacity required here, and it's a point that legislators seem at least somewhat sympathetic to, offering some pricing flexibility that the carriers appear to regard as insufficient.

Meanwhile, content providers are concerned about additional costs, and being left out of the Internet's “fast lane,” a move that would leave said provider unable to compete against the biggest firms that could afford such pricing. What's more, consumer advocates are concerned that many of these costs would get passed on to the consumer, which would leave many users out of the Internet entirely.

This debate actually mirrors in many ways a similar debate being staged in the United States over the future of the Internet as we know it, with ISPs eager to be more than a new public utility and users demanding steadily more amounts of bandwidth on a regular basis. As new products and services come into play that require bandwidth, from the mobile workforce and bring your own device (BYOD) efforts to cloud computing and online gaming, bandwidth will only become more in demand. The end result is that more bandwidth will be demanded, but where will it come from? The needs of carriers have to be factored in, as this is where bandwidth will come from. This is what makes the issue of net neutrality such a difficult one, and yet, one that must be solved to move us forward as a society.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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