European Lawmakers Vote in Favor of Net Neutrality

The European Parliament, pushing back against anti-consumer practices, has voted for net neutrality and to end wireless roaming fees.

The European Parliament voted April 3 to protect net neutrality and to end wireless roaming charges between EU member countries by year's end.

The European Commission (EC) said in its approved proposal that it was moving toward a single market for electronic communications in which "citizens and businesses can access electronic communications services wherever they are provided, without cross-border restrictions or unjustified additional costs."

In a video statement, EC Vice President Neelie Kroes told Europeans, "Nearly all of us depend on mobile and Internet connections as part of our daily lives. We should know what we are buying, we should not be ripped off, and we should have the opportunity to change our minds. Companies should have the chance to serve all of us, and this regulation makes it easier for them to do that. It's a win-win."

Net neutrality is a still-raging point of contention in the United States, where in January it suffered a blow when a U.S. District Court partially struck down the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Open Internet Order, which states that all Internet traffic must be treated equally. The alternative is that Internet service providers can favor some types of Internet traffic, or the traffic of particular companies or individuals, over others.

The issue has gained awareness as more consumers are using online services and more companies are vying for their business. Netflix, for example, has complained about having to pay Comcast extra fees—or risk reduced streaming speeds and a loss of viewers to Hulu, Amazon or other video sites.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings summed up the issue in a March 20 blog post when he wrote, "If this kind of leverage is effective against Netflix, which is pretty large, imagine the plight of smaller services today and in the future."

In Europe, the issue has been just as contentious.

Two days before the vote, four leading European telecom trade associations, representing rival wireless operators including Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Orange, banded together and released a joint statement aimed at pushing the vote the opposite way.

"The rushed legislative process and a lack of technical analysis risk transforming the Connected Continent Regulation into an anti-innovation and anti-consumer choice legislation," they said in a joint statement, according to an April 1 report from the Wall Street Journal, which saw the statement.

The statement added that the new proposals would result in lower Internet quality and jeopardize such services as virtual private networks (VPNs).

The same day, eight public interest groups teamed up and released a statement of their own.

"We are gravely concerned about loopholes in the Commission and Industry Committee texts that would allow parts of the telecommunications industry to become gatekeepers that decide what succeeds and what fails online," they wrote.

"Europe needs a vibrant online economy. This can only be achieved if telecoms operators are not permitted (as they have previously publicly demanded) to distort competition and innovation online," they continued. "…The open Internet amendments will help maintain a high-quality Internet for all and do not in any way prohibit services such as VPNs for business, IP-TV and telepresence."

A final endorsement of the proposal will need to be provided by the next European Parliament, which will be elected next month, and individual countries will need to be in agreement with the Parliament, which could lead to changes in the law, based on "feedback from politicians and regulators," the Boston Globe reported.

Estelle Masse with Access, one of the eight public interest groups, wrote in an April 3 blog post that the "legislative achievement" will have a "crucial impact on how European users experience the Internet for generations."

"The adopted provisions ensure that traffic management measures are conducted only when necessary, proportionate, temporary, targeted, transparent and in accordance with the law," she continued. The only thing missing from the proposal, she added, are "clear measures for implementation and enforcement of the net neutrality principle."

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