The European Parliament has passed controversial net neutrality legislation that could lead to a two-tier Internet.
The new legislation was originally designed to ensure an open and level playing field to “protect the right of every European to access Internet content, without discrimination.” In effect, the new rules should have prevented Internet companies from blocking or “throttling” content, services, or apps, and charging companies or people to restore parity. However, there is enough wiggle room in the legislation to cause concern.
There are loopholes that separate out “specialized” or “innovative” services, including Internet TV (e.g. video streaming), high-definition (HD) video conferencing, and some health care services. These loopholes are perhaps designed to support bandwidth-intensive services such as remote telesurgery, but the language contained within the legislation is vague and open to the creation of so-called “fast lanes”, whereby some companies can pay for faster access, and include this as a premium add-on for some customers.
The proposals and accompanying loopholes were first broached earlier this summer, and opponents have been pushing for amendments to make the language less open to abuse. In reference to the so-called “specialized services” caveat, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said:
“The specialized services exception allows ISPs to use IP networks for delivery of other online services, distinct from general Internet access that they offer, without complying with the same non-discrimination rules.
While the language here is better than in earlier drafts — it no longer allows general Internet access to be negatively affected by the availability of specialized services — clearer language could ensure that the range of specialized services that can take advantage of this exception is narrowly confined to those that legitimately require separate treatment.”
Today’s vote has effectively sealed the deal on “net neutrality” in Europe, with the proposed amendments rejected, and only time will tell how companies choose to interpret and implement the legislation with regard to their respective services.
In related news, Europe has also now rubber stamped additional legislation that will ban roaming charges across the European Union by June 2017. This means travelers within the union will pay the same as they would in their home country regardless of where they travel in the 28 constituent E.U. states.
Thus far, consumers have had to pay additional fees on top of their usual contract, though these were capped at €0.20 ($0.30) per MB of data, €0.19 ($0.29) per minute for making calls, €0.05 ($0.15) for receiving calls, and €0.06 ($0.16) for sending text messages. These caps will be reduced significantly from April 2016, before being abolished outright a year later.
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