Europe Gets Net Neutrality-Sort Of

October 28, 2015
By: Tara Seals

The European Parliament has approved rules for Net neutrality (News - Alert)—but has left enough loopholes as to make the legislation almost moot.

The “European Single Market for Electronic Communications” regulation was adopted by Parliament without amendments that would have prevented ISPs from blocking or slowing delivery of content, applications and services in the name of traffic congestion or to combat cyber-attacks.

Lawmakers also rejected an amendment that would ban “zero rating" agreements, in which customers can access certain sites and services for free outside their data plans. For instance, an ISP could offer a streaming video bundle that would allow access to Netflix that wouldn’t count against the data cap—presumably with guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS). And indeed, the rules also say that operators can charge for specialized services like QoS management.

It does say that this kind of traffic management must be “transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate, and may not last for longer than necessary.”

Image via Shutterstock

Speaking to Parliament, Spanish MEP Pilar del Castillo, who proposed the text, insisted that it means that “it will be illegal to provide better access for a fee.” But others say the language is too imprecise to adequately enforce regulation of that idea.

“The European Parliament had the choice to adopt amendments to clarify its vagueness in four key points: zero rating, specialized services, traffic management and congestion. However, it decided not to decide,” said Maryant Fernandez Perez, advocacy manager for campaign group European Digital Rights (EDRi), told PC World. “The EU legislators just decided to leave it up to the regulators to decide if, how and when EU citizens will get Net neutrality.”

Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake was also disappointed. “This is a missed opportunity,” she said. “Especially now that the United States has net neutrality laws, ours should be top notch.”

Michael Theurer, a liberal German MEP, meanwhile described the outcome as "regrettable."

The legislation does give consumers a big win however: It was bundled with a law that will eliminate international roaming charges on EU citizens. Operators can however crack down on “permanent roaming,” or using a SIM card from a low-cost country while living in, say, Germany.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere