Following the European Commission’s proposal for a telecoms single market in September 2013, the European Parliament, Council and Commission have finally reached an agreement on rules for safeguarding the open Internet in the EU – a principle known as net neutrality.
Net neutrality is a principle that internet traffic should be treated without discrimination. This means that operators would not be able to control what end users access on the internet by means of slowing load time, blocking or charging premium rates to access specific content. The US has recently backed up net neutrality after the decision by the Federal Communications Commission in February. Such decision reclassified internet broadband services as public utility, giving the FCC the powers to regulate broadband and impose net neutrality principles to US operators.
Criticism has been directed to the proposed EU rules on net neutrality as they allow some exceptions. Operators will not be prevented from giving priority to specialised or innovative services, such as IPTV, high-definition videoconferencing or healthcare services, provided that open internet access is preserved. Throttling traffic will also be allowed if it is in the public interest to do so – for example, to combat child sexual abuse and terrorist attacks.
The agreement reflects important changes for operators and end users of broadband services in the EU. As per now, net neutrality rules have not been harmonised in the EU and there is a gap in the legal protection related to the right to access the full open internet with some diverging provisions in the member states. The final text still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and member states before it comes into law, but due to the informal agreement, the approval is considered likely to happen.