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Europe enshrines Net Neutrality

In talks on the Telecoms Single Market legislation the European states, the EC and the European Parliament have reached agreement on net neutrality rules to treat all Internet traffic equally. The EC said the rules protect the right of every European to access internet content, without discrimination. The new rules enshrine the principle of net neutrality into EU law, meaning that no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services will be permitted. Exceptions are allowed only for normal traffic management, network security and protection, and law enforcement objectives. The aim is for the new rules to take effect from April 30th 2016.

However, the European version of net neutrality also allows operators to give priority to certain types of “specialised” services as long as they do not harm the open internet access. This includes services requiring a guaranteed level of quality, such as IPTV, high-definition videoconferencing or healthcare services like telesurgery. The EC warned that “such services must not be a sold as a substitute for the open internet access, they come on top of it.” So-called ‘paid prioritisation’, where certain users can pay more for better network access, will not be allowed.

The Commission noted that ‘zero rating’, where users are not charged for bandwidth used on specific services, would still be allowed under the proposal. This is a common practice among mobile operators who don’t charge for data used on popular services such as Facebook or Spotify in order to attract customers. The Commission noted that this does not result in the blocking of other content and “can promote a wider variety of offers for price-sensitive users, give them interesting deals, and encourage them to use digital services”. The main concern would be if such offers lead to a reduction in consumer choice, and then national regulators would be charged with monitoring the market and ensuring compliance with the rules.

The EC’s VP for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip welcomed the agreement, saying “Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges as well as for net neutrality rules. They have been heard.” The final text will now be sent to the European Parliament and member states for approval before it can become law. The agreement follows last week’s endorsement by Member States of the EC’s plan to create a Digital Single Market.

At the same meeting the three bodies also finally agreed on an end date for mobile roaming charges. Roaming fees will be abolished on June 15th 2017, after which consumers will pay the same rates as in their home countries when using mobile services abroad in the EU.

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