EU Body Strengthens 'Net Neutrality' Legislation With Release Of Implementation Guidelines

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) published the final guidelines for the implementation of the “net neutrality” legislative package in the European Union, after receiving almost half a million comments for feedback.

Loopholes In EU Net Neutrality Law

The net neutrality law passed last year in the European Parliament, with a few “loopholes” that made many people quite unhappy. Thee purpose behind the “Save The Internet” campaign, and others like it, it to ensure that the new regulations in the EU guarantee an internet as “neutral” as possible.

Net neutrality, as a concept, aims to guarantee that all bits are treated the same online. It also strives to eliminate any discrimination (positive or otherwise) by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) against a certain type of traffic or against a certain service.

As it was written, the legislation was too broad in some places. Left to interpretation, it may have allowed ISPs to turn into gatekeepers on the internet through loopholes such as zero-rating, discrimination against certain classes of traffic (like peer-to-peer traffic), broadly-defined congestion management, and so on. This isn’t too different from what many people feared would happen if there wasn’t any net neutrality legislation in place at all.

BEREC Improves Net Neutrality Legislation

BEREC’s job is to establish guidelines for how the net neutrality law can be enforced in various countries, so it plays a major role in setting the tone for how net neutrality will work in the European Union. Because of the half a million comments BEREC received, the group made its guideliness more specific and more in accordance with the spirit of the net neutrality concept.

For instance, some thought that the initial broad definition for the prevention of “impending network congestion” could have been used as a loophole. In BEREC’s guidelines, such prevention can be allowed only if “equivalent categories of traffic are treated equally.” This seems to at least close the loophole that may have allowed ISPs to block or throttle one VOIP provider but not another.

Julia Reda, member of the European Parliament and of the German Pirate Party, seemed quite excited about the new guidelines:

“This is a victory for civil society, whose relentless involvement secured the principles of a free and open internet in Europe,” said Reda.“By demanding strong net neutrality in record numbers, Europeans managed to overcome massive lobbying by the telecom industry and narrowly avert a catastrophe for the internet.It has to be noted with regret that it was not our digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger who listened to the people and defended an internet not biased towards big corporate interests, but the regulator body BEREC,” she noted.

She also mentioned that EU citizens should still be vigilant about how their countries treat zero-rating, as that would be managed on a case by case basis. However, BEREC’s zero-rating guidelines still seem like an improvement over the FCC’s refusal to even acknowledge that zero-rating could damage the concept of net neutrality in the United States.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • falchard
    Hooray, we get to see what a disaster Net Neutrality will be in Europe before the FCC implements it anyways.
  • axemastersinc
    We Already Have Net Neutrality. As a result of competition between internet service providers in the marketplace, ISPs generally do not discriminate against highly-trafficked websites. If they did – holding a figurative gun to the head of those websites by throttling back speed to those websites – consumers would dump those ISPs in favor of others. Competition ensures that companies do not have the leverage to discriminate against particular websites.
  • axemastersinc
    Internet Taxes Could Happen. Harold Furchtgott-Roth of Forbes writes that by making the internet subject to the strictures of the interstate telecommunications industry, the FCC could impose fees on internet service:

    By classifying broadband access services as “interstate telecommunications services,” those services would suddenly become required to pay FCC fees. At the current 16.1% fee structure, it would be perhaps the largest, one-time tax increase on the Internet. Get ready for new internet taxes. EU, what a joke.