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You’ve probably seen in the news last week that data roaming charges will be abolished within the EU from June 2017 and, as part of the same announcement, net neutrality will become ‘enshrined in law’ from this date, albeit with a potentially concerning exception in our view.

The EU will introduce ‘strong net neutrality rules’ from June 2017 which will ensure network providers (including mobile operators) treat all Internet traffic equally and will be unable to block and restrict certain types of traffic or applications. This follows previous complaints from VoIP providers who argued mobile operators were unfairly blocking their competitive services. We covered this issue in a guest blog from ITSPA (Mobile operators must follow net neutrality principles, says ITSPA).

The new rules state: “all traffic will be treated equally” and “enshrines for the first time the principle of net neutrality into EU law: users will be free to access the content of their choice, they will not be unfairly blocked or slowed down anymore, and paid prioritisation will not be allowed“

However, this has become subject to some exceptions in order to reach a workable compromise, namely:

  • Reasonable traffic management according to ‘justifiable technical requirements’, with a safeguard to avoid operators using this as an excuse to avoid investment into capacity.
  • Ability to safeguard and block against security attacks ((e.g. DDoS) and illegal content such as child exploitation.
  • Ability to apply blocks based on decisions by ‘public authorities or court order’ e.g. piracy sites
  • Blocks can also be made with prior consent from the user for parental control systems.

All of the above exceptions seem perfectly reasonable and expected. However, there is a further exception that is likely to gather wider criticism. ISPs will be able to provide “specialized or innovative services,” of “a higher quality.” (e.g. IPTV) as long as these services are not “supplied at the expense of the quality of the open Internet”.

Whilst most net neutrality advocates will accept the blocking of illegal sites and protection against security attacks etc, few are likely to accept the last clause as easily, which categorically disagrees with the true principle of net neutrality. Can the EU really state they have enshrined this principle in law with such a contradictory caveat?

It also remains unclear exactly how offenders breaking the new rules will be ‘punished’.

However, ITSPA, who have campaigned intensely for net neutrality over recent years in order to protect their IP telephony provider members against unfair and uncompetitive blocking are still pleased with the outcome, stating:

“It’s great that the EU is going to block the blockers. We’ve campaigned for years for action to stop Internet services like VoIP being blocked by a few fixed and mobile operators who can’t stand any competition to their own services.

These regulations are a sensible compromise. They will keep the Internet open but they will also allow network operators to manage the network efficiently and develop new services for the future. This is great news for the VoIP industry and everyone who uses the internet. The Latvian Presidency of the EU has worked hard on this and is to be congratulated.”

We applaud the general approach by the EU to protect net neutrality and believe the majority of the exceptions to be common sense and workable necessities but we do have concerns on the remaining potential for a two–tier Internet that the final exception leaves. We are also unclear as to how breaches of these rules will be monitored and treated. Whilst this is great progress we feel there is still some way to go until net neutrality is truly ‘enshrined in law.’

Have your say!

Do you think net neutrality should be legally protected or do you think the market should be left to regulate itself? Do you think the latest rulings go far enough or do you agree potential for abuse still remains? Let us know your opinions by leaving us a comment below.

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