MPs in the Netherlands approved a bill on Wednesday that will make the country the first in Europe to enshrine net neutrality in law.
If the bill is approved by the Dutch senate, as is expected to occur, it will mean telecoms operators cannot, for example, charge customers an extra fee if they want to use VoIP services such as Skype. Operators will not be able to levy different pricing tiers according to the types of services their customers use, and the neutrality of the internet as a medium will be ensured.
Although net neutrality policy remains a matter for individual European countries — for now — the European Commission is in the process of closely examining the issue to see if citizens are being given a fair deal. Chile is the only other country in the world to have passed a net neutrality law; theirs came into force in May this year.
The internet is, to some extent, already not neutral — some types of traffic are often prioritised over others at certain times of the day, sometimes for a fee. However, many operators, both fixed and mobile, want to be able to charge specific content and service providers for carrying their services at a usable quality. It is this kind of anti-net-neutrality action that campaigners have generally opposed.
The Dutch proposal (translated here into English) forbids communications providers from hindering or delaying any services or applications on the internet, except where doing so is necessary to stop congestion or block spam, or to otherwise maintain the integrity and security of the network.
The law would also force operators to provide a minimum level of quality for their internet services. They are, however, allowed to offer different tiers of bandwidth at varying prices.
Another law (presented here in Dutch) voted through by the Dutch parliamentarians on Wednesday would stop operators from employing deep-packet inspection (DPI) techniques, while a third (again, in Dutch) forbids the disconnection of internet users for any reason other than fraud or failure to pay their bills.
The French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net responded to the news of the law's approval by saying it was "excellent news and an example for all of Europe", while Dutch equivalent Bits of Freedom said it was "a crucial foundation for Internet freedom".
The Netherlands' mobile operators reacted disappointedly. According to the BBC, Vodafone said the law will "lead to a large increase in prices for mobile internet for a large group of consumers", while KPN — the operator that spurred the country's lawmakers into action by explicitly saying it would start charging customers if they wanted to use services like Skype over KPN's network — said it regretted "that parliament didn't take more time for this legislation".