European Parliament approves 'net neutrality' proposal

[JURIST] The European Parliament [official website] voted [press release] on Thursday to appove a proposal prohibiting Internet service providers (ISPs) from enhancing or restricting services for selected Internet traffic. The proposed "net neutrality" law, approved by a 534-25 vote with 58 abstentions, aims to treat all Internet traffic equally by making it illegal to block, slow down, or give preferential treatment to certain specific applications and services for economic or other reasons. The parliament also voted to include a ban on roaming charges for mobile phone users traveling in other European Union (EU) countries. The adopted proposal [text, PDF] will prohibit ISPs from promoting some services, such as video-on-demand and business-critical data storage, to the detriment of others such as Skype, an online telephone service. "These tendencies," the proposal states, "require clear rules ... to maintain the open Internet and to avoid fragmentation of the single market resulting from individual [EU] Member States' measures." Four trade bodies, all representing affected cable and telecom businesses, released a "Joint E-Communications Industry Statement" [text] on Tuesday expressing concern that the new law will negatively affect "a wide range of players in the EU digital value chain" which will result in "a lower quality of service for consumers and businesses in Europe." The proposed legislation was passed on first reading, but will require additional approval before it is enacted into law.

The EU's new net-neutrality law comes more than three years after the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, announced [JURIST report] that the then-existing regulations ensuring net neutrality were adequate, expressing concern that additional legislation might compromise the telecommunication industry's growth. Kroes' announcement, did not rule out such legislation in the future if ISPs were to attempt to reap higher profits through reducing services or blocking access to certain sites. In the US, the FCC has been attempting to promote [JURIST report] net neutrality by prohibiting ISPs from using nondiscriminatory practices in managing the flow of Internet content. In January, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down [JURIST report] the FCC's net-neutrality-related rules acknowledging the FCC's authority to regulate ISPs but questioning the legality of prohibiting ISPs from charging some customers for higher-quality Internet access. The FCC states [JURIST report] it will not appeal the circuit court decision but will now develop new rules requiring Internet traffic transparency from ISPs and prohibiting unfair restrictions on consumer Internet usability.

 

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