Political agreement has been reached on a new Regulation covering part of the Connected Continent proposals.
What's the issue?
The Connected Continent proposals, published in September 2013 by the Commission, originally covered widespread regulatory changes, including introducing a single EU regulator and harmonising rules on spectrum allocation. Following considerable resistance from Member States, the scope of the proposals was narrowed to cover roaming and net neutrality in the short term with the more contentious elements being pushed into the Digital Single Market Strategy.
What's the development?
Political agreement has been announced on the least controversial elements of the Connected Continent proposals, namely roaming and net neutrality. Roaming charges in the EU are set to be abolished by 15 June 2017 and net neutrality will be enshrined into EU law with principles applicable immediately the legislation comes into force, which is expected to be on 30 April 2016. The next step will be formal adoption of the text followed by translation into all the EU languages and publication in the Official Journal.
What does this mean for you?
The Regulation applies variously to:
"provider[s] of electronic communications to the public" meaning an undertaking providing public electronic communications networks or publicly available electronic communications services; and
"internet access service[s]" meaning a publicly available electronic communications service that provides access to the internet and thereby connectivity to virtually all end points of the internet, irrespective of the network technology and terminal equipment used.
For telecoms operators, this is not unexpected but could still impact significantly on their profits and create an administrative headache despite measures to help protect them.
For ISPs, the legislation is likely to rule out a potential revenue stream and open them to greater scrutiny from the regulators.
For consumers, the Regulation is good news. A probable end to annoying roaming charges when on holiday and reassurance that people will not be able to pay to prioritise their internet traffic.
The Regulation will see the end of EU roaming charges from 15 June 2017. Roaming providers will be able to apply a 'fair use' policy to prevent abuse which would include using roaming services for purposes other than occasional travel. A charge may become payable if fair use is exceeded. A definition of what constitutes fair use will be agreed by the Commission with regulator input.
The principle of net neutrality will be enshrined into European law for the first time. Users will have a right to access online content without discrimination or imposed prioritisation and blocking, throttling and paid-for prioritisation of services will not be allowed.
Public-interest exceptions may allow for traffic manipulation where necessary to:
- comply with EU or national legislation or court orders on dealing with unlawful content
- preserve the security and integrity of the network e.g. dealing with viruses, denial of service attacks and misuse of the network
- minimise temporary or exceptional network congestion
Traffic management measures must be transparent, non-discriminatory, proportionate and not put in place for longer than necessary.
Providers of electronic communications to the public will be able to supply optimsed services to customers, for example, high quality streaming, provided they are not supplied at the expense of an open internet and the optimisation is necessary in order to supply the service.
National regulators will have a duty to monitor and enforce open internet rules which may include investigating traffic management practices of ISPs and their impact on end users. They will also be able to set out minimum service requirements and various other measures as well as setting sanctions for breach which must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.
Providers of internet access services will be required to ensure their contracts give a variety of information to end users in a clear and comprehensible manner. This includes information on traffic management measures which might impact on end user service quality, privacy and data protection; and about service parameters including download and upload speeds.
The Regulation will also introduce requirements regarding transparency of consumer information relating to roaming charges (where applicable).