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European Parliament Adopts Law to Keep Internet Open

BY Rebecca Chao | Thursday, April 3 2014

Is all Internet traffic created equal? The European Parliament thinks so, voting on Thursday to adopt a law on net neutrality, which would make it harder for Internet service providers (ISPs) to discriminate against certain types of Internet traffic based on the source.

Without such a law, ISPs could threaten service suppliers with slowing down traffic unless they paid a fee. For example, the EU telecoms regulator BEREC stated that several ISPs were either limiting access or slowing down services like Skype and activists have noted that targets also include Youtube and Facebook. Neelie Kroes, Digital Agenda Commissioner elaborated in a blog post:

For the first time we know that at least 20%, and potentially up to half of EU mobile broadband users have contracts that allow their Internet service provider (ISP) to restrict services like VOIP (e.g. Skype) or peer-to-peer file sharing. Around 20% of fixed operators (spread across virtually all EU member states) apply restrictions such as to limit peer-to-peer volumes at peak times. This can affect up to 95% of users in a country.

The new law will also end roaming fees across the 28 EU countries.

As techPresident reported earlier, the previous draft law that passed in March was met with skepticism by open Internet activists who argued that the overbroad language of the draft law allowed for a large loophole that would still allow ISPs to enact fees for different levels of service.

MEPs and activists alike say that the law that passed Thursday has closed those loopholes.

MEP Marietje Schaake said in a statement, "After months of negotiations, the European Parliament has today adopted my proposal to close the last remaining loopholes in the text, in order to enshrine net neutrality in European law. This is essential for competitiveness, innovation and the open internet in Europe. The Parliament supports the rights of consumers and a level playing field for all players in the digital single market. 500 million Europeans must soon be able to rely on legal guarantees for an open internet."

Félix Tréguer, co-founder of the digitial rights group La Quadrature du Net, told Wired, "Today's victory on Net neutrality is the most important one for the protection of freedom online in Europe since the rejection of ACTA in July 2012. The EU Parliament made clear that the Internet commons should be free of corporate capture, and remain a space where freedom of communication and innovation can thrive." ACTA or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was an anti-piracy bill that Internet activists argued would threaten the open Internet; the bill was thrown out after waves of protests against its passage.

Raegan McDonald, European Policy Manager at the open Internet advocacy group told GB Times, “The European Parliament made a clear choice to protect the future of free expression, innovation, and creativity in Europe and resisted pressure to hand over the future of the internet to telcos."

In the U.S., the federal courts earlier this year decided against net neutrality, striking down a net neutrality law passed down by the Federal Communications Commission. Internet activists argue that this move may prove detrimental for Internet start-ups that cannot afford to pay for better services. Netflix recently and reluctantly struck a deal with Comcast to ensure its customers would still receive quality streaming. However, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote on his blog:

Without strong net neutrality, big ISPs can demand potentially escalating fees for the interconnection required to deliver high quality service. The big ISPs can make these demands -- driving up costs and prices for everyone else -- because of their market position. For any given U.S. household, there is often only one or two choices for getting high-speed Internet* access and that’s unlikely to change. Furthermore, Internet access is often bundled with other services making it challenging to switch ISPs. It is this lack of consumer choice that leads to the need for strong net neutrality.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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