The European Union announced a new proposal that would set some ground rules for “net neutrality” and eliminate roaming fees for people traveling within other EU countries.
There have been many battles about reducing roaming fees so people could communicate with their friends and family in other EU countries without paying exorbitant fees. Considering this, the whole point of the European Union was to unite Europe's citizens, making it easier for people to communicate.
Roaming fees were reduced a few times over the years, but never completely eliminated. After much debate between the EU's Parliament, Commission (EU executive), and the EU Council (countries' prime-ministers and presidents), the roaming fees will finally be eliminated.
The "win" is welcome, but it comes at a time when most people already use the Internet as an inexpensive communication alternative, so it's not nearly as big an impact as it could have been five or 10 years ago.
Mobile operators also knew that people have been using voice calls less frequently, so they were more willing to give this up, especially if they can have some wins of their own in regard to the Internet and net neutrality.
By the looks of it, the mobile operators won at least two things in the new net neutrality legislative package, which seems to have been modified from the original proposal by the previous Commission: zero-rating, or what Facebook has been trying to do with Internet.org, and "specialized services," which could open the door to "paid prioritization" and "fast lanes."
Zero-rating, also called sponsored connectivity, or in less amicable terms "positive discrimination" on the Internet, can lead to discrimination of what type of services get to be served to most Internet users, much like paid prioritization.
If a company has enough money to pay the ISP or mobile operator so the data consumption of its service isn't paid by customers, then most of those customers could end up favoring that service over smaller competitors that can't afford to do the same. This encourages monopolies and not innovation.
The E.U. announcement mentioned that there will be no "paid prioritization" on the regular Internet, but mobile operators will be able to put aside bandwidth for these "specialized services." The EU gave some examples such as services for autonomous cars, healthcare services such as telesurgery, and IPTV and high-definition videoconferencing.
The first two sound more reasonable. One would probably want channels that have guaranteed bandwidth and uptime for these types of services, as they could otherwise put people's lives in danger. However, there doesn't seem to be such an obvious need for guaranteed high-speed connections for IPTV and video-conferencing services. These services could be run just as well over the "regular" Internet (which doesn't include the specialized services).
We've had streaming video services for years, and people seem happy with them. Recently, Netflix even announced 4K video streaming in the U.S. Although it may not be quite up to Blu-ray quality, it's still an impressive feat for typical U.S. Internet connections. EU countries tend to have significantly faster Internet connections on average, so the argument that specialized services should include IPTV and video-conferencing is not a strong one.
Because the rules and criteria around specialized services are so vague, this also opens the door to other regular Web services to become specialized services.
For instance, Netflix, Spotify or YouTube could probably all apply to become specialized services if they wanted. This would bring us the exact problems the EU said it's trying to stop now: paid prioritization and fast lanes. The big companies would be able to join the faster specialized services lane, while smaller competitors wouldn't be able to afford it.
The new legislation is not quite set in stone yet, as it still requires approval from the EU Commission and Parliament. The new Commission suggested many of these changes to the original net neutrality proposal, so it's likely to pass it as it is.
On the other hand, the Parliament has been a big supporter of a good net neutrality law, and if there is strong opposition to this legislative package, the Parliament might reject it. Otherwise, the EU Parliament might also pass the net neutrality legislation as it is, because the EU's top institutions recently wrapped up negotiations after a few years of debate. If the legislation goes through, it won't go into effect until 2017.