Net neutrality faces unwilling Council negotiators

A European Council communication sent to Parliament Friday (22 May) shows that it hasn’t budged on net neutrality. The Council is pushing back against lawmakers’ earlier move towards rules that would prevent telecoms from giving some internet traffic special treatment.

The Latvian Presidency’s newest compromise text, as seen by EURACTIV, touches up the legislature’s most recent response, with a few reformulations, and removes the phrase “non-discriminatory” and the definition of “net neutrality” altogether.

The presidency has been at pains to move along trialogue talks with the Parliament and European Commission on the troubled telecoms single market legislation, which includes net neutrality, and an end to roaming charges.

Discussions between the three institutions began earlier this year on the telecoms single market, and have been stalled recently, in part over member states’ objections to net neutrality.

Another sticking point is the timeframe for ending roaming charges. The Council has suggested ending roaming in 2018, while Parliament wanted a phase out by next year.

>>Read: EU document: Mobile roaming fees should remain until 2018

Two weeks ago, the French NGO La Quadrature du Net published an internal Council document that showed similar changes, including the omission of “ensuring non-discriminatory treatment of traffic” from the document’s objective and the definition of net neutrality added by the Parliament last year (which specifies net neutrality as internet traffic that is treated ‘without discrimination’).

The Council told Parliament it would draft another text ahead of the next trialogue meeting on 2 June.

According to a Parliament source with knowledge of the negotiations, MEPs are still divided over non-discrimination, meaning zero rating or special access to services that providers offer as part of data packages.

Opponents to zero rating have argued tdata packages which give unlimited access to some services should only be allowed when a provider cannot deliver the same quality, if they’re run normally over the Internet.

In the Council’s newest formulation, such services are allowed, provided that they’re not “substitute for internet access services and are not to the material detriment of the availability of internet access services for other end-users”.

The phrase “for other end-users” is a change from Parliament’s previous text. The NGO European Digital Rights (EDRi) criticised this formulation in a blog post on Monday, arguing that it would still enable service providers to control internet quality for users who themselves access specialised services.

Another Latvian Presidency addition that appeared in last week’s text is a measure obligating internet service providers to block illegal content.

Parliament conservatives have pushed for filters which restrict minors’ access to some online content.

British MEP Vicky Ford (ECR) said last week during a debate on the Digital Single Market plans, “Security is key, especially for parents who want to know that their children are safe online.”

>>Read: No Digital Single Market without a strong Telecom Single Market

Parliament voted in favour of net neutrality legislation last spring. During last week’s same debate, a number of MEPs criticised the Council’s sluggish pace in the telecoms single market talks.

“The digital single market without net neutrality, how is that going to work? I think we won’t be able to do it that way. This isn’t a good example or a model for the future,” Austrian MEP Michel Reimon (Green) said during the debate.

The next trialogue meeting between the European Commission, Council and Parliament is on 2 June.

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