Skip to main content

Tim Berners-Lee Calls For Strong EU Net Neutrality Laws, Ban Of 'Positive Discrimination'

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Web, recently spoke in favor of net neutrality in a blog post on the European Union (EU) Commission's website. In his post, he called net neutrality "critical for Europe's future."

Last year, the EU Parliament managed to pass a strong net neutrality law, which was part of a larger package of laws that also included the elimination of roaming fees in EU countries. One amendment in the net neutrality law defines the term and the principle behind it:

"Net neutrality" means the principle according to which all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application.

The law also includes amendments that ban Internet providers from blocking competing services or throttling them. Although the EU net neutrality law allows for "specialized services," it says quite clearly that those services can't be "Internet services" but services that are sold separately from Internet access and can't interfere with the speed of the "regular" Internet. For instance, Internet providers may offer TV services that are delivered digitally through the same Internet cables, but not as part of the "Internet" package.

All in all, the EU was one of the first regions to adopt such clear and strong net neutrality laws. However, the law also needs to be approved by the individual countries inside the EU. Some countries, such as Tim Berners-Lee's own UK, isn't too fond of the idea of a strong net neutrality law. Berners-Lee seems interested in preserving the net neutrality law as is and wants to push the momentum forward for it to be adopted fully by all the EU countries, including UK.

“When I designed the Web, I deliberately built it as a neutral, creative and collaborative space, building on the openness the Internet offered. My vision was that anyone, anywhere in the world could share knowledge and ideas without needing to buy a license or ask permission from myself or any CEO, government department or committee. This openness unleashed a tidal wave of innovation, and it is still powering new breakthroughs in science, commerce, culture and much more besides," said Berners-Lee on the EU Commission's website.

Berners-Lee also discussed the hidden dangers of "positive discrimination," as he called it. He was referring to the idea of letting the Internet providers favor one service over another, which would allow them to become gatekeepers and have too much power over the content on the Internet.  

Internet users may be tricked by their Internet providers into agreeing with this positive discrimination, because they could get a certain service for free. Everyone loves free stuff, so it would be hard to resist such an offer, especially if they don't see any immediate danger in it.

However, allowing this could distort the competition in the services market, as most users would just naturally gravitate towards the "free" offer from their Internet provider instead of using a competitor's service. Internet providers would also be the ones to decide winners and losers. This is why Berners-Lee proposed that all countries explicitly ban this sort of behavior from ISPs.

The European Council, which is comprised of the heads of states of individual EU countries, is the entity that has to ultimately adopt the net neutrality law that the EU Parliament has passed. The group will conclude the net neutrality discussions in March 2015. Berners-Lee hopes the public will keep the pressure up to get the Council to accept the strong net neutrality legislation.

Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • zfreak280
    I usually don't applaud anything that the EU does, but I have to applaud them on their steps towards net neutrality. It may not have as large of an impact as they desire, but at least they are trying unlike our lousy politicians here in the US.
    Reply
  • Solandri
    15218240 said:
    but at least they are trying unlike our lousy politicians here in the US.
    Ahem. Not only are the U.S. politicians not trying, they're the cause of our net non-neutrality woes. They're the ones who granted Comcast, Verizon, etc. local monopolies. And it's only because of these monopolies that they can pull off this non-neutrality crap.

    Imagine if people had been able to choose between Comcast and other ISPs, and Comcast tried to throttle Netflix. They would've bled customers and put themselves out of business, as word got around that Netflix sucked on Comcast but worked great on Joe's ISP. The only reason they were able to throttle Netflix was because they knew they had a monopoly and there was no competitor their customers could flee to.
    Reply
  • Sirme91
    if the EU touches net neutrality or rather doesnt reinforce that it should never ever be touched and as protected as our free speech then i wan`t my country (sweden) out of it, the corporations already have enough control around the world, the E.U needs to put it`s foot down and show they will not be compremised by them, but im still worried, we got good laws against corruption in sweden but i`m not as confident in the E.U parliment:/,

    the internet is the last and only refugee for people around the world who are opprossed , whose governments wont give them free speech,
    so they can talk to eachother online, the world will be worse off for it if it`s touched and the scariest part is how it is a real world possibility to be used as a propaganda weapon, the unrestricted internet is the whole point of the internet and it`s strongest selling point.

    And that is what make`s it more than just another media outlet, the fact that i can speak with anyone in the world, at least in the english speaking part of it, and share ideas, experinces and thoughts makes it one of the greatest inventions for mankinds furtherment of intellect in our history:)

    that`s not to say i´m not worried about how net neutrality will fare in the us, because
    i´m pretty sure it will affect everyone if net neutrality is butchered in the there. since many sites i enjoy come from the us, but i can only speculate though, who knows how it will affect me, but more importantly i`m worried about how it will affect the americans;/ it would be a sad day and a pretty big nail in the coffin of the internet`s possibilities to see it happen to the US,

    so im worried for both and it`s an unsettling thought to see it fail anywhere:)
    Reply
  • Sirme91
    another reason why i don`t want to be imposed by whatever the E.U decides is that we already have a good and working system in place here which would most likely get damaged, and the only time our legislators actually interfere is in examples like this one

    http://falkvinge.net/2011/02/09/sweden-to-enforce-net-neutrality-kinda/

    this explained it better than i could in a nutshell,

    but while i think this is a good compliment togheter with laws against mopolization, the best protection of the net neutrality is and always will be healthy competition:)
    Reply
  • velocityg4
    I don't understand the point of the EU passing this "law". If each member country must pass it individually. Then it sounds more like a list of suggestions.
    Reply
  • Sakkura
    I don't understand the point of the EU passing this "law". If each member country must pass it individually. Then it sounds more like a list of suggestions.

    I think the author is a bit confused about the way it works. This legislation has not yet been passed by the EU; it's been through the parliament but still needs to be passed by the EU council. Once passed, most EU legislation is binding in that the countries MUST legislate in accordance with it; but they usually have some leeway in the details of the implementation.
    Reply
  • mrjhh
    The problem with a strong network neutrality law is that it will impede innovation. Software Defined Networking is just in its infancy, and offers many potential improvements. Perhaps it will let Netflix build a tunnel into Comcast's network. While they might have to pay Comcast, it might reduce their overall costs by picking the lowest cost transit network, resulting in an overall savings. Perhaps it reduces your Comcast internet bill because you aren't paying them for transport. No one really knows yet, which makes me afraid of overarching rules and their impediment to innovation.
    Reply
  • bscottjohnston
    The only problem I have with the "haters" is that all of the people who want all this freedom on the Internet didn't build any of it. It cost millions if not billions to create infrastructure and especially last mile. Now that it's all done we need to open it completely for anyone and everyone and regulate it's cost too?

    I get the whole speed issue and the fast lanes but when it comes to last mile network its the cable and DSL companies that most love to hate that built it. It's almost like trying to bite the hand that feeds you.
    Reply
  • Solandri
    15224041 said:
    I get the whole speed issue and the fast lanes but when it comes to last mile network its the cable and DSL companies that most love to hate that built it. It's almost like trying to bite the hand that feeds you.
    The problem is that in most of the U.S., the government regulates the industry so that only one phone company and one cable company is allowed to rig up the last mile wiring. This puts that company in a position of extraordinary monopoly power over the customer.

    The places which are not having this problem allow 2+ cable companies to rig up wiring, resulting in competition between those companies giving customers the best service for the lowest price. The downside being that you end up with a lot more wires installed than are really needed. The best solution would probably be to regulate it as a utility. Award a single company a contract to lay down and maintain the wires, but prohibit them from selling Internet service. Instead, a multitude of ISPs are allowed to offer Internet service, leasing the last mile wire from the wiring company at government regulated rates.
    Reply
  • Sakkura
    15221664 said:
    The problem with a strong network neutrality law is that it will impede innovation.
    Yes, it will impede Comcast's innovative ways of keeping down upstarts like Netflix. :p
    Reply