The EU’s controversial net neutrality rules now apply and the first set of reductions to EU roaming tariffs has been made.

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?

In October 2015, the EU adopted the new Regulation on mobile roaming and the open internet, choosing not to make last minute changes to the net neutrality provisions which have come under attack for containing too many exceptions. The Regulation has applied since 30 April 2016.

The first reduction in mobile roaming charges took place from 30 April and mobile roaming charges in the EU will be dropped entirely by 2017 (subject to potential fair use and business tariffs).

The net neutrality provisions also took effect from 30 April 2016 although conflicting local Member State provisions may continue to apply until the end of 2016 provided they were notified to the Commission before the EU provisions came into force.

What does this mean for you?

For telecoms operators, this could still impact significantly on their profits and create an administrative headache despite a pending review and introduction of 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 EU consumers, the Regulation is good news, bringing a reduction and, ultimately, a probable end to annoying roaming charges when on holiday in the EU, and reassurance that people will not be able to pay to prioritise their internet traffic.

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The final set of reductions in roaming charges can only take place provided the European Parliament and Council have adopted and made applicable a legislative act to be adopted following a comprehensive review of wholesale roaming markets in the EU by the Commission. The Commission has to report to the Parliament and Council on the review and make any legislative proposals by 15 June 2016. As part of this process, the Commission has published a report on its consultation on the review of national wholesale roaming markets, fair use policy and the sustainability mechanism.

The report shows a divergence of opinion (particularly between large and small operators) as to the effect on competition in the wholesale roaming market of the reductions in roaming charges and as to what regulatory measures are appropriate. In terms of a fair use policy, consumers are broadly against introducing restrictions while operators argue that there should be some sort of fair use policy for occasional travellers in the EU and specific roaming tariff plans to address business needs. The Commission will present its final report and legislative proposals by 15 June 2016.

Net neutrality

While the EC claims that net neutrality is now enshrined into EU law, the legislation has been much criticised for including relatively broad exceptions to the requirement that all internet traffic be treated equally. Blocking, throttling and prioritisation of paid-for content are prohibited but there are exceptions for:

  • reasonable day-to-day traffic management according to justified technical requirements, which must be independent of the origin or destination of the traffic and of any commercial considerations;
  • internet access providers to introduce network security features (e.g. internet anti-virus, anti-DDoS etc.) and or blocks against truly illegal content, such as child pornography or court / public authority-ordered blocks against internet piracy websites; and
  • ISPs to offer optional features like email spam filters or Parental Controls (the latter may block pornography etc.). This must be done “with the prior request or consent of end-users and the possibility to withdraw the consent, and thus such filters, at any time”, which makes it difficult for ISPs to impose default network-level censorship without first getting their customers’ approval.

For more information, read our article on net neutrality.

Consumer protection

Providers of internet access services are 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 also introduces requirements regarding transparency of consumer information relating to roaming charges (where applicable).

Read more articles in May’s edition of Radar