Regulator’s guidelines intended to clarify EU Net Neutrality stance following rules that were adopted last year
EU Net Neutrality rules are strict! The Telco Industry is dismayed. Europe’s telecommunications regulator has published final guidelines on how the EU net neutrality rules that were adopted last year will be implemented. Digital rights groups are hailing the decisions as a victory for the free and open internet. The guidelines, published Tuesday, clarify the vaguely worded provisions that experts say could have been exploited by telecoms to favor certain internet services over others.
The EU Net Neutrality rules adopted by the European Parliament last year aimed to strengthen net neutrality by requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all web traffic equally, without favoring some services over others. But the regulations contained several loopholes that raised concerns among net neutrality advocates – like the provision that would have allowed ISPs to create “fast lanes” for “specialized services,” or the provision that would have allowed zero-rating. Also, a “traffic management” provision would have allowed telecoms to prioritize internet traffic from some services over others.
Those provisions were clarified under the guidelines published by the BEREC. “ISPs are prohibited from blocking or slowing down of Internet traffic, except where necessary,” BEREC said. “The exceptions are limited to: traffic management to comply with a legal order, to ensure network integrity and security, and to manage congestion, provided that equivalent categories of traffic are treated equally.”
The guidelines prohibit zero-rating in circumstances “where all applications are blocked or slowed down once the data cap is reached,” though they acknowledge that some cases are “less clear-cut.” European regulators should assess such practices on a case-by-case basis, BEREC said, taking account for factors such as the market share of an ISP, effects on app choice, and the scale of the practice. The regulations also allow for traffic management “under limited circumstances;” traffic management practices that block, interfere with, or slow down services and apps are banned.
The BEREC guidelines provide examples of what could be considered as a specialized service, VoLTE (high-quality voice calls), linear IPTV services, ot remote surgeries, which would operate separately from the internet. Such services would have to meet certain quality and capacity requirements to ensure that they can only operate on networks that are not connected to the internet.
EU Net neutrality advocates welcomed BEREC’s guidelines as a milestone for the open internet in Europe. “Europe is now a global standard-setter in the defense of the open, competitive and neutral internet,” Joe McNamee, executive director of the Brussels-based organization European Digital Rights (EDRi), said in a statement.
BEREC published draft guidelines on how EU Net Neutrality rules will be implemented by member states in June, and opened them to public consultation, garnering more than 480,000 responses. Major telecoms lobbied heavily for the regulatory body to adopt a more relaxed interpretation of the rules. More than 20 telecoms — including Vodafone, BT, and Deutsche Telekom — published a “manifesto” in July, saying that they would not introduce high-speed 5G networks unless BEREC took a softer approach to net neutrality.
In response, www creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee, together with law professors Barbara van Schewick and Larry Lessig, published an open letter calling on European regulators to “save the open internet.” – “Strong guidelines will protect the future of competition, innovation, and creative expression in Europe, enhancing Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy,” the letter said. “They will ensure that every European, no matter the color of their skin or the size of their wallets, has an equal chance to innovate, compete, speak, organize, and connect online.”
Julia Reda, Member of European Parliament for the Pirate Party, said that authorities will have to “stay vigilant” on zero-rating practices as national regulators assess them on a case-by-case basis, but she described the regulations as “a victory for civil society” in a blog post published Tuesday. “By demanding strong net neutrality in record numbers, Europeans managed to overcome massive lobbying by the telecom industry and narrowly avert a catastrophe for the internet,” Reda said.
What does this mean for internet service providers?
For bigger ISPs, it means that they will need to avoid launching services that discriminate between different online services. They won’t be able to have new revenue share alignments with major OTTs, their revenues will be limited and marketing initiatives will be monitored. For smaller ISPs, which might have struggled to convince the tech firms to pay for faster access, it should ensure a more competitive market.