The European Parliament adopted yesterday (17 November) a clear-cut position on net neutrality, giving the priority to maintaining an open Internet for all rather than increasing its use for commercial purposes.
A resolution passed by MEPs in Strasbourg calls on the European Commission to ensure that “Internet service providers do not block, discriminate against or impair the ability of any person to use or offer any service, content or application of their choice irrespective of source or target.”
As the Internet evolves into a crucial market for an ever-increasing number of services, many Internet service providers are stepping up their attempts to prioritise traffic in order to offer the best and quickest services to those who pay more.
Most controversial is the intentional slow-down of Internet connections – also referred as ‘throttling’ – for clients who do not pay the full price. Some are even inclined to block specific services such as Skype, to avoid competition with their traditional telephony services.
In their resolution, MEPs did recognise the need for a “reasonable” management of data traffic to ensure that the Internet continues to run smoothly. However, the Parliament also clearly underlined that anti-competitive practices should not be allowed.
MEPs asked the Commission to “closely monitor the development of traffic management practices and interconnection agreements, in particular in relation to blocking and throttling of, or excessive pricing for, VoIP and file sharing, as well as anticompetitive behaviour and excessive degradation of quality”.
The text adopted reiterated privacy and data protection concerns raised by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) who issued an opinion last October warning of “serious implications” for the security of personal data due to an excessively intrusive interpretation of traffic management.
Commission still in 'listening mode'
The EU's Digital Agenda commissioner, Neelie Kroes, stands accused by many MEPs of keeping an “ambiguous” approach to net neutrality.
The Commission indeed refrained from taking a definitive position on traffic management in its communication on net neutrality published last April. However, it did made clear that further monitoring of dubious practices was required and could lead to regulatory measures in the future.
This analysis is still ongoing, explained Kroes’ spokesperson Ryan Heath. “The Commission is monitoring the development of traffic management. To this end it has tasked BEREC (the Body of national telecoms regulators) to carry out investigations on net neutrality and traffic management, including instances of blocking and throttling. This work is currently ongoing,” Heath said, postponing any decision until this monitoring exercise is concluded.
It remains unclear at this stage whether the Commission will come up with new “guidance” for the sector or with binding legislation.