In a vote that took place on the 27th of October, the European Parliament has rejected a number of legal amendments to the proposed net neutrality bill. Net neutrality is the principle that every point on the web can connect to any other point on the web, regardless of the origin, destination or type of data. This allows for a free flow of information, innovation and competition. Users can exercise their right to receive and impart information, and their right to expression, online.
The legislation aims to protect the principle of net neutrality. However, it has been criticised due to the many gaping loop holes found within the legislation, which the amendments proposed aimed to close. The most prevalent were the following:
- Fast lanes: companies are allowed to pay for “fast lanes” which would enable their content to load faster than others – so called “specialized services”. Julia Reda, a German MEP said that this would allow for the creation of a “two speed internet” in the EU.
- Zero rating: internet service providers (ISPs) are now allowed to exempt certain applications from users’ monthly bandwidth cap, meaning that accessing certain applications would be free for users, and the tech company behind the application would pay for the internet use on their behalf.
- Discrimination of data: ISPs may also classify different types of data, and speed up or slow down traffic for different kinds of online services rendered.
- ISPs are also allowed to slow down traffic due to “impending” congestion – which means that this can be done at any time, even if there was no congestion at that time.
A letter opposing the net neutrality law was signed by numerous tech companies, including Foursquare, BitTorrent, Netflix and Kickstarter among others. The tech giants said that “these problems jeopardize the future of the start-up innovation and economic growth in the EU. They also create barriers for U.S. start-ups and businesses seeking to enter the EU market”. Unfortunately, since the amendments were shot down, these risks are now entirely possible.
Interestingly, the debate which took place before the vote was attended by a mere 50 MEPs out of the total 751. This highlights the low priority that was given to the passing of this bill. It has, however, been said that MEPs might have been reluctant to amend the legislation because of the fact that it has taken years for it to come this far. MEP Marietje Schaake called this a “missed opportunity”, adding that too much attention is being given to national telecom companies. The neutrality law was passed hand in hand with the roaming regulation which has been higher up on the list of MEPs’ priorities. In fact, many were worried that by accepting the amendments to the net neutrality laws, the roaming regulation would be delayed once again, which is another reason why the amendments were rejected.
Ann Jellema, CEO of the Web Foundation, which was founded by the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sit Tim Berners Lee, expressed her dissent following these developments. She explained that the baton has now been passed to the Body of European Regulators (BEREC) which must issue guidelines on the implementation of net neutrality laws to national bodies, and the national regulators and courts who “will have to decide how these spectacularly unclear rules will be implemented. The onus is now on these groups to heed the call of hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens and prevent a two speed internet”. The laws are expected to come into effect in April 2016.