From 30 April, internet service providers and mobile operators must comply with a new Regulation that introduces common rules for net neutrality across the EU. The rules seek to ensure that ISPs treat all data equally as it passes through their networks. In particular, ISPs mustn’t:
- block users’ access to websites or online services;
- slow users’ internet speeds when they use certain online applications; or
- prioritise users’ access to particular applications.
ISPs may have reasonable traffic management measures in place, but these must be proportionate and based on technical criteria, not commercial considerations. The measures also shouldn’t involve monitoring the specific content of data packets passing over the network. Only in certain circumstances can ISPs implement more intensive traffic management measures, for instance to block access to illegal content, or to prevent a cyber-attack or exceptional network congestion.
In some circumstances, ISPs may offer optimised ‘specialised services’ that require a high-quality network connection, such as corporate VPNs. However, these shouldn’t be offered to the detriment of other customers’ access.
The Regulation also introduces new transparency rules. Customer contracts must include certain information, including how traffic management measures might affect the quality of the customer’s internet access and his privacy. Contracts must also state the connection speeds that the ISP can realistically deliver. And ISPs must have a simple and efficient procedure to address related customer complaints.
BEREC, the body that oversees EU member states’ electronic communications regulators, must publish guidance on how to apply the Regulation by 31 August. A draft of the guidance will be published in early June for public consultation.
Each regulator will publish a yearly report on how the rules are being applied in their country, so we can expect to see increased monitoring of ISPs across the continent. ISPs should therefore ensure that their traffic management measures comply with the Regulation, and that their customer contracts set out all the necessary details.