European Net Neutrality

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European Net Neutrality

Europe is currently doing what American legislatures seem to have trouble doing: they are drafting a net neutrality law. The European Union has just voted in favor of a law that will ensure all traffic is treated “without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of the sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application.” This bill ensures that ISPs in the EU cannot throttle types of data like BitTorrent streams, or data from specific sites, like Netflix. One exception to this rule is that ISPs can throttle data to ease heavy network traffic, but can only do so without discrimination, instead of favoring some services over others.

Though this is a step in the right direction, there are some that argue that the bill leaves in major loopholes, and is still under much debate. A recent set of amendments to the bill make it illegal for an ISP to suddenly declare a site to be “specialized” or higher priority than other sites, like Comcast did for Netflix in the US about a month ago. Under this legislation, such a deal could not happen legally. However, the bill still allows an ISP to set up services that bypass certain infrastructures in order to provide a high quality of service. How this would be used is still poorly defined, but examples given include video conferencing and medical uses, similar to the 911 emergency system used in America. ISPs would be able to charge extra for this premium, provided these side routes do not affect the quality of Internet access as a whole. For example, Netflix could not pay Comcast to slow Amazon Prime video streaming.

This legislation is part of Europe’s push to reform the telecom industry, dubbed the “Connected Continent”. The Connected Continent legislation proposal has six main tenets. First, the simplification of regulation for companies, meaning this legislation intends to put out a standard of regulations that Internet providers must meet and other companies can expect. Second, more coordination of spectrum use, so that we see more wireless broadband, more 4G investment, and the emergence of pan-EU mobile companies with integrated networks. All wireless communication uses a specific frequency. Governments regulate which frequencies can and cannot be used, sometimes on an international level. Sometimes, frequencies can get lost in paperwork, or end up being owned by a company that cannot use them. This bill intends to open up access of those frequencies to companies that can actually use them. Third, this bill will seek to set guidelines for interactions between companies where one company with significant market power must provide virtual access to other companies. An example of this would be when a smaller wireless carrier buys access to a larger carrier’s network, obtaining service where they have no towers. Fourth, protection of Open Internet, guarantees for net neutrality, innovation and consumer rights. Fifth, pushing roaming premiums out of the market. Sixth, consumer protection: plain language contracts, with more comparable information, and greater rights to switch provider or contract.

The EU is eclipsing the USA in terms of Internet rights and net neutrality right now. If America doesn’t get its act together to bring back net neutrality, it could be seriously damaging for small businesses and Internet startups in America. I have already gone into detail on what could happen in America if net neutrality was not protected, so I won’t go too in depth here. Hopefully the EU net neutrality laws will be a wake-up call for American legislators to write up something similar.

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Joseph Iacoviello

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