On Thursday 3 April 2014, the European Parliament voted to adopt net neutrality. The principle of net neutrality is that all data on the internet is to be treated equally, regardless of platform, application, source or user. The EU’s proposal is therefore intended to prevent anti-competitive blocking or “throttling” of services and content by internet providers, as well as providing the consumer with transparency and choice.
The law still needs to be approved by the EU member states, but the proposal puts Europe at odds with the U.S., where significant fees are paid by some audio visual media on demand platforms to ISPs to ensure better access to their subscribers.
The decision has been met with some resistance. For example, in anticipation of the vote, the four big telecommunication industry associations released a joint statement railing against what they called “restrictive” amendments to the law. They went onto say that a “rushed legislative process and a lack of technical analysis” risked transforming the legislation into an “anti-innovation and anti-consumer choice legislation”.
One area of contention is that the law would prohibit mobile networks and broadband providers from blocking competitor services, such as WhatApp or Skype, which are renowned for providing free or cheaper voice and messaging services.
Some see this as a positive step, stressing that an open internet is essential to maintaining those key distribution platforms which are currently in place across the web. Neelie Kroes, the EU telecom commissioner, said: “this vote is the EU delivering for citizens. This is what the EU is all about – getting rid of barriers to make life easier and less expensive”.
Others warn that it could be the customer who will ultimately have to foot the bill to cover the costs for those cable and telecoms companies forced to upgrade infrastructure to manage the escalating data demands.
Some speculate that the EU member states are likely to want to water-down the tougher elements of the net neutrality law but expect the proposals will be accepted in principle and could become law as early as next year.