EU passes net neutrality law, votes to end throttling, site blocking

EU passes net neutrality law, votes to end throttling, site blocking

Summary: European politicians pass a net neutrality law that will bring fair access to bandwidth and content access across the 28 member states. And the law puts the US firmly in its place.

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TOPICS: Networking, EU
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NEW YORK — Finally, the Europeans did something even their mighty friend, the United States, couldn't achieve.

Members of the European Parliament on Thursday voted on sweeping changes to the 28 member state bloc's internet and mobile laws, which will see fairer treatment to end-users and businesses alike by treating all Internet traffic equally regardless of its content or provider.

That would mean Internet providers cannot throttle a user streaming Netflix content because of the high-bandwidth costs, or mobile carriers blocking access to Skype because it hurts voice, calling, and text-messaging revenue.

The legislation, which does not differentiate between cellular and landline networks, means both fixed-line and on-the-go mobile users will benefit from the law, at a time when European cell providers are ramping up investment spending in order to account for the massive spike in data consumption.

The package includes amendments that define and protect net neutrality.

Part of the wording of the bill passed first by the European Parliament's trade committee that referred to "specialized services" can be exempted from the rules, but some in the parliament were angered by its broad and vague definition. The concerns were that Internet providers could categorize video streaming services, such as Netflix and Google — which would benefit from the net neutrality rules — as "specialized services", effectively negating some of the gains they would receive.

EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in remarks following the vote: "This vote is the EU delivering for citizens."

"Beyond the highly visible barrier of roaming we are now close to removing many other barriers so Europeans can enjoy open, seamless communications wherever they are," she added.

Today's parliamentary ruling marks the largest collective national push for net neutrality — a feat the U.S. failed to accomplish in recent weeks — after the U.S. government lost against Verizon and Comcast in court earlier this year.

Phone and internet providers have in recent months and years started  charging content providers — such as Google, Amazon, Netflix, and others — higher charges for premium networking speeds. Carriers believe that high-definition streaming and content downloading adds an extra burden to their overall network capacity.

Up until now, only the Netherlands and Slovenia had net neutrality laws in place.

But the conclusion is far from over, and passage into law remains on a knife's edge. Leaders from Europe's 28 countries will have to approve the deal, but that may drag on until past May, when parliamentary elections are called. That could result in delays that may lead to the debate being reopened or scrapped later down the line.

Even then, European leaders are expected to water down some of the proposals made by center and left politicians, which will be welcomed by telecoms giants. Meanwhile, Germany and the U.K. are looking to guarantee at very least the prevention of throttling and blocking rival services.

Topics: Networking, EU

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21 comments
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  • Net Laws

    It's just the right thing to do.

    Why is that such a difficult concept?

    Oh right...GREED.
    THavoc
    • So, an internet provider expecting to be paid

      for supporting extra bandwidth is greed, but you wanting to suck as much bandwidth that you can without paying for it is altruistic and selfless. Got it.
      baggins_z
      • How do you define "extra bandwidth"?

        How much bandwidth is extra? I remember when my cellphone carrier had a 100MB cap on my cellphone. Anything over that they started charging for. Guess what? I could watch one YouTube video and exeed that cap if the video was large enough. Well, that's all my fun for the month. I don't have problem with caps on bandwidth so long as they are defined as being large enough that I could not exceed them in any given month.
        j4w4
      • Not paying for?

        But... you do pay for it. Each month. You pay your provider for the line, and they provide the connection and speed. The bandwidth is determined by the speed. Using it is not wrong in any way.

        If providers cannot provider enough bandwidth for everyone, they have some choices:

        * Raise the speed for top tier speed packages
        * Introduce bandwidth limits

        Those two are not welcomed by customers and would hurt the business

        * Stop taking on new subscriptions to ensure everyone has better access

        Not going to happen any time soon, is it?

        * Upgrade their lines and be able to provide all paying customers with decent access


        The problem is providers, not people for consuming what they have paid for. If I pay for a 100Mbit line then why the hell shouldn't I be able to make full use of that line? If that's a problem, then the provider needs to provide a service ti can cope with, not one it cannot and then blame the user.
        Kryten2k35
        • correction

          Sorry, price for the top tier package, not speed.
          Kryten2k35
  • 100 % Support Net Neutrality

    It should almost be entrenched in a constitution.
    Time Agora
  • Great job, EU

    This is the kind of thing that makes me hope the UK doesn't leave the EU
    SupaRawr93
  • Jealous!

    This American is jealous! :) Go EU! Now.... we need a companion article on how American small business owners who are getting crapped on by American ISPs can uproot and move to Europe. Easiest countries to immigrate too, how to go about it, setting up a business where everything is the United States (trademarks, copyrights, etc).
    jsreilly
  • Not so well thought!

    This is all good until your mission critical information is lost! You don't know where your kid is, because an urgent txt won't arrive due to someone downloading netflix on your shared BW. Your online bill payment won't go thru, because of the same download....you can't make a 911 call....there definitely has to be traffic prioritization to provide the quality of service we are used to. This is all driven by google and Amazons of the world to get accees to what they don't have. I bet they would start reselling their share of capacity providing Class of Service differentiation.
    netwise!
    • You misunderstand

      This is not about preventing differential handling of different *types* of traffic (phone calls, texts, web pages, email) for technical traffic management purposes. It is about ISPs not being allowed to discriminate based on *content* or source of traffic to block access to rival or non-preferred services. So slowing down web traffic (generally) to prioritise email or text messages is fine; blocking Skype to prioritise more comercially lucrative voice messages is not; slowing down Netflix to prioritise Sky TV is also not acceptble.
      cgcenet
  • Guess it's pretty obvious where you stand on this one

    Zack. Not even trying to hide your opinion on this one. So, since there is no such thing as a free lunch, how is this "equal" treatment going to get paid for?
    baggins_z
    • Ah. Nevermind. I saw the rest of the article

      Loopholes you can drive a truck through. But, hey, it makes you feel good because somebody did something. They didn't solve the problem, and will likely make things more expensive for everyone, but hey, at least they did something.
      baggins_z
    • Net Neutrality

      Philosophically it feels good. And since most people reading this aren't being forced to eat the costs of a few enormous clients with no regard for how it might affect their network, philosophically beats out practically.

      Because practically, this goes against how networks have been managed for a decade.
      luke mayson
      • Level playing field

        The point of the new law is that it will prevent large sites from paying extra for preferential treatment from ISPs over small ones. And it will also prevent ISPs from giving their own services preferential treatment over others.
        It does not affect network traffic management that is done for technical reasons to ensure smooth running of the network, and nor does it stop usage capping. What it stops is throttling or blocking for purely commercial reasons.
        cgcenet
    • This is nothing to do with a "free lunch"

      This is nothing to do with a "free lunch", but a level playing field. It is no good for the consumer or the market if in your region there are only two ISPs, with ISP A blocking Amazon and ISP B blocking iTunes, as each ISP has a special deal with the other service. It would mean users could not use both web sites, because each ISP only gives access to one of them.
      In the wider case, net neutrality ensures that small-scale sites are equally accessible as large ones.
      cgcenet
  • content hosting costs

    Zack,

    this quote:
    "Phone and internet providers have in recent months and years started charging content providers — such as Google, Amazon, Netflix, and others — higher charges for premium networking speeds."

    Can you verify that statement? I believe you have it backwards.

    Just because Netflix has been reported to have negotiated direct rates with Comcast to augment their existing capacity they purchased from Cogent does not mean they are paying higher prices for higher speeds than other content providers pay.

    Host/transit provider contracts decrease in price with increasing volume.

    I am certain that Netflix, google, and amazon are paying way less than other content providers pay to get onto the Internet. Certainly far less than quotes I last saw for hosting a tiny website I wanted. Those guys get huge volume discounts versus what a small bandwidth volume site like ZDNet pays. Ask your internal IT what ZDNet pays and then ask that same hosting/transit provider what the per bps cost would be if you needed 100 times more capacity. Decreasing unit price with increasing volume/speed (per GB or gbps) is true with Comcast, AT&T, Cogent, Level3, Akamai, Limelight, etc. You should be able to verify that.
    ccjunk
  • This is doomed.

    It's altruistic, avante' garde. It looks out for the people not just the providers. What could possibly go wrong? After all, we are all just soft snowflakes, and ISP's are the gentle clouds of life.

    I'll tell you the answer.. ready? PHYSICS. If there is one tube designed, built and used for 10 people (possibly a waste removal tube, for fun). In walks the 11th person. And then the 12th. Suddenly, this tube cannot handle the extra players. (I'm sad I need to explain it in such simplistic terms).

    Fast forward, those paying more will not deal with tube backups to any degree of those paying the least. Physics of economy.
    TechNickle
    • Network neutrality is nothing to do with what you are referring to

      Network neutrality does not stop ISPs from applying technical traffic management rules to ensure that the network runs smoothly, nor does it stop them from capping usage. What it means is that all internet traffic of the same type is treated equally, regardless of source or content. The new law stops ISPs from slowing down particular services or sites for purely commercial reasons, e.g. throttling YouTube to give preferential treatment to iPlayer.
      cgcenet
  • no free lunch

    I take issue with the statement that "... European cell providers are ramping up investment spending in order to account for the massive spike in data consumption." In fact, european telecom revenue and profit has been dropping for more than 5 years and the capacity of the european networks, once the envy of the world, are slipping farther and farther behind the US and asia. The end result is going to be net-neutral networks that lack the capacity to handle high bandwidth applications, unless someone with deep pockets can step in to pay for it all. We'll have to see what german taxpayers have left after the national bailouts are over.
    krakorar
    • No Free Lunch!

      This is free lunch for the big guys who don't want to pay, it is the little guys that are hurt and will have to pay more. I have been designing international networks for decades, it is impossible to support same service for everyone without any BW trotteling without increasing cost/Mb...WHat ISPs need to do and will do is support usage based service and customers would want to do that if they are not the big guy...
      netwise!