Decisive moment for net neutrality in Europe

UPDATE:

Yesterday, the European Union moved one step closer to enacting real net neutrality across the continent. The European Parliament’s Industry, Research, and Energy Committee (ITRE) approved an agreement on the Telecom Single Market Regulation (TSM), after drawn out negotiations between the three EU policymaking branches: the Parliament, the Council, and the Commission. This draft legislation includes proposed rules specifying that all traffic must be treated equally as well as rules prohibiting paid prioritization and blocking.

The ITRE Committee will vote in the fall to formally adopt the text and it will then move to the full Parliament plenary for a final vote. However, amendments can be offered before both the ITRE vote and the plenary vote, and the European Council (the body representing EU member states) must also ratify the final text before it becomes law.

While the current rules are ambiguous in places and give significant deference to national regulatory authorities, overall this is a significant step to protect the open Internet in Europe. We urge European policymakers to finish strong and enact clear, enforceable rules against blocking, discrimination, and fast lanes.

ORIGINAL POST:

After years of negotiations, the E.U. Telecom Single Market Regulation (which includes proposed net neutrality rules) is nearing completion. If passed, the Regulation will be binding on all E.U. member states. The policymakers – the three European governmental bodies:  the Parliament, the Commission, and the Council – are at a crossroads: implement real net neutrality into law, or permit net discrimination and in doing so threaten innovation and competition. We urge European policymakers to stand strong, adopt clear rules to protect the open Internet, and set an example for the world.

At Mozilla, we’ve taken a strong stance for real net neutrality, because it is central to our mission and to the openness of the Internet. Just as we have supported action in the United States and in India, we support the adoption of net neutrality rules in Europe. Net neutrality fundamentally protects competition and innovation, to the benefit of both European Internet users and businesses. We want an Internet where everyone can create, participate, and innovate online, all of which is at risk if discriminatory practices are condoned by law or through regulatory indifference.

The final text of European legislation is still being written, and the details are still gaining shape. We have called for strong, enforceable rules against blocking, discrimination, and fast lanes are critical to protecting the openness of the Internet. To accomplish this, the European Parliament needs to hold firm to its five votes in the last five years for real net neutrality. Members of the European Parliament must resist internal and external pressures to build in loopholes that would threaten those rules.

Two issues stand out as particularly important in this final round of negotiations: specialized services and zero-rating. On the former, specialized services – or “services other than Internet access services” – represent a complex and unresolved set of market practices, including very few current ones and many speculative future possibilities. While there is certainly potential for real value in these services, absent any safeguards, such services risk undermining the open Internet. It’s important to maintain a baseline of robust access, and prevent relegating the open Internet to a second tier of quality.

Second, earlier statements from the E.U. included language that appeared to endorse zero-rating business practices. Our view is that zero-rating as currently implemented in the market is not the right path forward for the open Internet. However, we do not believe it is necessary to address this issue in the context of the Telecom Single Market Regulation. As such, we’re glad to see such language removed from more recent drafts and we encourage European policymakers to leave it out of the final text.

The final text that emerges from the European process will set a standard not only for Europe but for the rest of the world. It’s critical for European policymakers to stand with the Internet and get it right.

Chris Riley, Head of Public Policy
Jochai Ben-Avie, Internet Policy Manager