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EU ITRE Committee Approve Net Neutrality and Cheaper Roaming Rules

Tuesday, Mar 18th, 2014 (10:36 am) - Score 635

The European Parliament’s ITRE Industry Committee has this morning voted in favour of the new Telecoms Single Market Regulation, which proposes a raft of changes including measures to protect open Internet access from abuse by ISPs (Net Neutrality), ending EU mobile roaming charges, coordinating spectrum for wireless/mobile operators and various other measures like easier switching between broadband providers.

ISPreview.co.uk published a detailed summary of the proposed changes last September 2013 (here), although today’s vote is only the first major hurdle on the way to final adoption. The Telecoms Regulation is now due to be voted in plenary by all MEPs on 3rd April 2014 and the European Commission (EC) expects a final agreement by the end of 2014.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the EC, said:

This vote is great news and I would like to thank the rapporteur Pilar del Castillo and all the MEPs involved for all their hard work and cooperative spirit. Digital tools and telecoms networks enable productivity and performance in every area of our lives. And now we are one step closer.

This is about ensuring a dynamic, healthy, competitive telecoms sector, fit to face the future. It’s about arming every European business with the tools and networks they need to innovate and grow. And giving every European citizen the seamless connectivity they have come to demand – without unfair practices like blocked services or roaming charges.”

However it’s worth pointing out that many of the proposed measures have already been adopted by Ofcom through a voluntary approach in the United Kingdom, with some other changes occurring as part of existing Government legislation. But the idea of removing roaming charges is something altogether bolder and remains bitterly opposed by most of the major EU mobile operators.

Similarly the new Net Neutrality rules, which Kroes designed with the intention of “guaranteeing an open internet for all by banning blocking and degrading of content“, often seems to raise more questions than it answers.

The Open Rights Group said:

Unless the Regulation is amended, Internet Providers will be able to block content without any judicial oversight. Internet Service Providers should not be allowed to decide what content you can and cannot access.

Weakening the principle of net neutrality could make your Internet more expensive. Your bill could start looking like Sky or Virgin TV, with basic services and confusing added packages. But tinkering with net neutrality would also impact freedom of speech and plurality of the media, as independent voices struggle to reach into the mainstream.

The outcome of the vote remains uncertain and depends on the vote of a small number of MEPs who might still be swayed. For more information and If you want to take action, check out the campaign site www.savetheinternet.eu

On the other hand the concept of Net Neutrality, which is intended to reflect the principal of treating all Internet traffic as equal, is often a bit misleading because in a live network environment data traffic is always being controlled and adjusted (e.g. Traffic Management).

Most truly uncontended connections are hugely expensive business leased lines but it’s not economically viable to deliver that to everybody at an affordable price, at least not without sharing / controlling capacity in some way. Similarly the advent of IPTV based online Television services would not be possible unless ISPs are allowed some flexibility to sign commercial content agreements.

The difficulty tends to come when ISPs start demanding that online content producers, such as Google, Skype or Netflix, pay them money in order to carry their services and then deliberately degrade the content providers traffic to their customers when they don’t cough up (i.e. kind of like a Digital Mafia, and lots of them, asking for “protection” money from local shop keepers). Thankfully we haven’t seen much of this in the UK but it remains a very real concern.

In other cases ISPs have been known to block access to legal Internet content / websites or other services, such as ISPs or mobile operators that restrict universal P2P traffic to a near unusable level, or which abuse their controls to censor free speech. Issues like this can be equally complicated and the new rules are intended to provide some clarity, although critics fear that they will have little impact.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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