Major European Union (EU) telecommunication service providers including Deutsche Telekom, Orange of France, Telecom Italia and Telefonica of Spain confirmed the signing of a “manifesto” yesterday in which they pledged to launch fifth-generation (5G) network services in at least one major city of every EU nation by 2020.  The companies emphasized, however, that their offer comes with a quid pro quo, as they stipulated that the EU and its member states “must reconcile the need for [the] Open Internet with pragmatic rules that foster innovation.”  Asserting that recent EU rules mandating net neutrality “create significant uncertainties around 5G return on investment,” the companies warned that such investment is “likely to be delayed unless regulators take a positive stance on innovation and stick to it.” 

Manufacturers of telecom network equipment such as Nokia Corp. and Ericsson are also included among the 17 companies that endorsed the manifesto.  Like the rules the FCC adopted last year as part of its Open Internet order, the EU’s net neutrality mandate (which went into effect on April 30) prohibits Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating, blocking or otherwise hindering the transmission of lawful web content.  However, EU law permits ISPs to offer “specialized services” that provide broadband network “fast lanes” to certain customers as long as such offerings do not impede the overall flow of web traffic or affect overall network quality.  ISPs are also allowed under EU rules to block or slow the delivery of content, services, or applications when such action is needed to comply with court orders, alleviate network congestion or prevent cyber-attacks. 

In addition to advocating for relaxed net neutrality guidelines, the manifesto also recommends the establishment of a level playing field among ISPs and “over-the-top” (OTT) video streaming and similar service providers through uniform application of EU regulations to ISPs and OTT providers.  The manifesto also maintains that “implementation of the net neutrality laws should allow for both innovative specialized services required by industrial applications and the Internet access quality expected by all consumers.”