Today, a bitter-sweet victory for net neutrality in Europe: the European Parliament voted on the Telecoms Single Market Regulation (TSM), which will bring some protections for the open internet in Europe. Regrettably, the European Parliament voted against amendments that would have brought clarity and strength to the proposed rules.
As voted, the proposal generally bans discrimination, but falls short in a few areas, including tightening the definition of “specialised services,” disallowing the discrimination of different types of traffic (see more in our analysis below).
The rules will enter into force as soon as the legislation is published in the Official Diary (which could be as early as November, though not yet confirmed).
But it’s not over yet. BEREC, the association of telecoms regulators in Europe, will devise guidelines during a 9 month consultation period that could clarify the interpretation of the rules. We hope that BEREC finishes what the EU institutions started and enacts real net neutrality in the European Union.
We’re days away from the vote for adoption of the Telecoms Single Market (TSM), a proposed EU Regulation that would enshrine net neutrality across the continent. The TSM contains rules which would specify the equal treatment of traffic and ban blocking, throttling, and the establishment of fast lanes, although a handful of key amendments are still needed to bring clarity and strength to the proposed rules. There’s still time to take action – find out more about possible amendments and contact members of the European Parliament through a campaign platform launched by European civil society at: https://savetheinternet.eu/.
Net neutrality is central to the Mozilla mission and to the openness of the Internet. As a global community of technologists, thinkers, and makers, we want to build an Internet that is open and enables creativity and collaboration. This is why we have taken a strong stance in favour of real net neutrality around the world. Net neutrality preserves the disruptive and collaborative nature of the Internet, and benefits competition, innovation, and creativity online.
The TSM was proposed in September 2013, and originally contained a number of semi-related issues, from consumer rights, spectrum management, and roaming, to net neutrality. Over the course of negotiations, the text was cut down to contain a reform of roaming charges and net neutrality rules. Since March, the TSM has been in the final stages of negotiation called the “trialogue,” where the three EU institutions (European Parliament, Commission, and the Council) agree on a common approach. The Parliament will get the final say in the Plenary vote in Strasbourg next Tuesday (27 October).
The current text of the TSM would bring a much needed improvement in the EU for protections against blocking, throttling, and prioritisation of online traffic. Still, there are areas where the text needs to be clarified and strengthened, and we hope these changes can be made over the next few days. Here are two we believe to be of critical importance:
Prohibiting the discrimination of different types of traffic. The current text allows ISPs opportunities to prioritize or throttle some “types of traffic” without violating net neutrality. Such type-based discrimination permits ISPs to slow down or speed up entire types of traffic, resulting in severe harm to net neutrality. For example, an application considered to be “chat” type might include video capabilities, or might be text-only; throttling the latter might have no impact, yet might cripple user experience for the former. Furthermore, the technical characteristics of a “type” of application today may not be the same in the future, as the technologies evolve and add new functionality, so even treatment for a “type” that seems reasonable today may not be tomorrow. Other loopholes are possible as well. Network operators may discriminate against encrypted traffic if unable to determine the “type,” or may create unique “types” of traffic for certain preferred classes, even if there are no inherent distinctions – artificially separating their own preferred or partner traffic from their competitors in order to work around the rules. An amendment that reinforces equal treatment across data types would help close these loopholes.
Tightening the definition of “specialised services” to prevent discrimination. Specialised 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, the criteria defining these services should be refined to prohibit discrimination that harms open Internet access services.
The European Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on amendments before considering the final text, so there’s still time to let them know about these valuable improvements. The final outcome of this process will set a strong standard for the open Internet in the European Union and beyond. It’s therefore more important than ever to ensure that the rules are clear, comprehensive and enforceable. Take action today – find out more about the amendments and contact members of the European Parliament at: https://savetheinternet.eu/.
Raegan MacDonald, Senior Policy Manager, EU Principal
Jochai Ben-Avie, Senior Global Policy Manager
Chris Riley, Head of Public Policy