Net Neutrality Vote: EU Will Allow Data Discrimination - InformationWeek

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Net Neutrality Vote: EU Will Allow Data Discrimination

Rejecting strong net neutrality protections, the European Parliament has voted to allow Internet fast lanes.

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The European Parliament on Tuesday voted to adopt net neutrality rules that allow data discrimination. As European Parliament press office puts it, "The new law will oblige firms offering Internet access to treat all traffic equally," even as network operators "will nonetheless be able to offer specialized services...on condition that this does not have an impact on general Internet quality."

Diverging from the more comprehensive net neutrality rules adopted by the US Federal Communications Commission in February, Europe's rules will allow service providers to offer Internet fast lanes for a fee.

[ See what wireless carriers think about FCC's rules. Read FCC Net Neutrality Push Rattles AT&T, Verizon. ]

The European Parliament insists it is not promoting Internet fast lanes or unequal treatment of data traffic. It makes this assertion by defining "specialized services" as something distinct from the open Internet, a line of argument that echoes the now discredited "separate but equal" legal doctrine used to justify racial discrimination in the US. 

All Internet traffic will be treated equally, except when it isn't.

(Image: European Parliament Press Office)

(Image: European Parliament Press Office)

Anne Jellema, CEO of the Web Foundation, the nonprofit created by World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee, criticized the European Parliament vote in a blog post. "Now, European start-ups may have to compete on an uneven playing field against industry titans, while small civil society groups risk having their voices overwhelmed by well-funded giants," she said.

Beyond "specialized services," the EU rules allow Internet service providers to exempt certain applications from monthly bandwidth caps, a practice known as "zero rating" or "sponsored data." ISPs can thus influence which bandwidth-dependent companies win or lose in certain markets by exempting partners from data costs while charging non-allied firms.

According to Berners-Lee, the rules also allow ISPs to define classes of service, such as encrypted traffic, and to set the speed available to such classes. They also allow ISPs to modify traffic speeds to prevent "impending" congestion, a term so ill-defined that it amounts to discretionary data throttling.

The new net neutrality rules are part of the Telecoms Single Market package, which ends mobile network roaming charges, at least in part, by June 2017. Members of parliament had the chance to adopt amendments that would have closed the net neutrality loopholes but they failed to do so.

Marietje Schaake, a Member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, called the vote "a missed opportunity" to implement stronger net neutrality laws.

Jellema says that EU regulators, national regulators, and the courts will now face the challenge of heeding the citizens' concerns about Internet fairness as they try to interpret the vague rules.

Though the FCC adopted strong net neutrality rules for the US in February, the fight isn't over. USTelecom in April filed a complaint in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that challenges the FCC's reclassification of broadband Internet access as a public utility. Arguments are scheduled to be heard in December.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/28/2015 | 9:50:21 AM
Re: Data discrimination from those who don't like economic discrimination
Although I am sympathetic to the cause of Net Neutrality, what I am more concerned about are the choices of internet access.  Being one of the earlier adapters of DSL, I've been paying double the price for 1/4 download speed now comparing with the speed over a decade ago.  With my only other internet access option being Comcast, there isn't really any option around.  If there were choices and some ISPs decide to provide inferior services regarding Net Neutrality, they would not be in business and other newer and better ISPs would take their place.

In Europe, this scenario is possible simply because the "last mile" of internet access are built as part of public infrastruture, where ISPs compete and provide superior services to customers.  In US, companies like AT&T and Comcast are replied upon to provide the infrastructures and have little incentives to allow competitions like Google Fiber, while racking up record profits with localized monoplies.  Not maintaining an absolute Net Neutrality in Europe might be a concern for the purists, but as long as the infrastruture stays public and the ISP competitions stay fierce, there is not much for European citizens to worry.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
10/27/2015 | 9:05:53 PM
Data discrimination from those who don't like economic discrimination
It sometimes seems as if the Europeans need to do something different from what the U.S. does, just to ensure that there's no confusion over whether they're just followers. They are quite against genetically modified foods, which I can understand for health reasons -- less of an issue here. But they are much more tolerant of smoking, which I do not understand, for health reasons -- not tolerated here. So of course allowing data fast lanes distinguishes them from the approach taken in the U.S. but in the past I felt Europeans were stronger believers in level playing fields and everyone following the same standards. Now there's retrenchment from that. It's puzzling. 
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