Net Neutrality, Roaming Reforms Now Fact Under European Parliament Law

By Steve Anderson April 03, 2014

Recently the topic of net neutrality got some extra attention as a vote coming up in the European Parliament was set to examine the topic and see just how users would be able to access all the content that's offered by the Internet as a whole. While there have been some issues on this front, especially as content goes from straight text to video and interactive sources with an accompanying increase in bandwidth required, the European Parliament made it clear with its vote that all data, regardless of type, should be equally accessible.

There was an issue involved in the bill's passage, though, as a quantity of amendments were brought in after some loopholes were left in that would have allowed telecommunications firms to classify web services as “specialized services” that could have received different treatment under net neutrality, and the exact nature of said “specialized services” seemed to have been left up largely to the telecommunications firms' own judgment, meaning it was fairly clear just which services would have been found to be specialists, and the treatment that would have been accorded to same was likewise clear.

Among the amendments passed as part of the package—which would then go on to the next Parliament before going to the representatives of individual countries—the concept of net neutrality was given a new definition that's surprisingly strong. Net neutrality, according to Amendment 234, now means “the principle according to which all Internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application.” Meanwhile, “specialized services” were addressed in Amendment 235, now defined as meaning “ electronic communications service optimized for specific content, applications or services, or a combination thereof, provided over logically distinct capacity, relying on strict admission control, offering functionality requiring enhanced quality from end to end, and that is not marketed or usable as a substitute for Internet access service.” In another stroke of development for the European user base, roaming fees within Europe itself were likewise eliminated, meaning that there would essentially be one market for services within Europe, or at least that part covered by the European Parliament.

Response from the carriers, meanwhile, was as bleak as many expected. The GSMA offered a statement saying it recognized “...the efforts of Rapporteur Pilar del Castillo to develop a constructive response to the Commission’s Connected Continent proposals but believes that the overall package fails to address the key challenge of stimulating growth and investment.” This was amplified by GSMA director general Anne Bouverot, who offered up comment: “Network operators must be able to develop services that meet the needs of consumers and charge different prices for differentiated products.”

Bouverot here is right, and based on what I've seen so far, there's nothing stopping the telecommunications firms from doing just that, though perhaps Bouverot is concerned about competition here. There is nothing stopping Bouverot from, say, offering a better streaming video service than, say, Lovefilm and making it available on a mobile network only. Once that service is in place there's nothing really stopping the networks from offering that service at whatever price the market will bear. It's going to require the networks to innovate, but the game is still being played...though perhaps by a different set of rules than the mobile providers would have liked.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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