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Net neutrality heads for European Parliament vote

The parliament's industry committee has unanimously voted through a resolution that stresses how a lack of net neutrality 'hurts businesses, consumers and society as a whole'
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Net neutrality and the open internet in Europe got a boost on Thursday when a key European Parliament committee voted to protect them.

The industry committee unanimously adopted a resolution (PDF) backing the principles, which the parliament as a whole may now vote to adopt at a plenary session in November. The text counts as advice to the European Commission, Council and governments of member states. It points out the risks of departing from the principles of net neutrality, and reminds the recipients that regulators must be able to curtail anti-competitive behaviour.

Network or 'net' neutrality, which refers to the equality of internet-based services, is becoming an increasingly crucial issue as more and more people depend on the internet. Some telecoms operators have been known to throttle or block services that compete with their own — VoIP is the classic example — and net-neutrality advocates say this should not be allowed.

Campaigners for net neutrality are also incensed by the desire on the part of some operators to charge content providers such as Google and the BBC for carrying their services at a decent quality. Net-neutrality advocates say this would make it impossible for new players to easily and cheaply set up shop, as has been the case so far.

According to the adopted resolution — passed by 35 votes to none, with four abstentions — "potential challenges when departing from network neutrality [include] anti-competitive behaviour, blockage of innovation, restriction on freedom of expression, lack of consumer awareness and infringement of privacy".

"The lack of net neutrality hurts both businesses, consumers and society as a whole," it concludes.

It also emphasises that EU regulations aim to promote effective competition, "therefore any measure in the area of net neutrality should, in addition to existing competition law, provide tools to deal with any anti-competitive practices that may emerge, as well as lead to investment and facility new innovative business models".

'Wait and see'

The European Commission is still in 'wait-and-see' mode on the issue, having asked regulatory body Berec in April to find out whether examples of anti-net neutrality abuses could be found. Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes criticised Dutch lawmakers earlier this month for voting to pass strongly pro net-neutrality laws despite the Commission not having yet agreed on a co-ordinated European approach.

The lack of net neutrality hurts both businesses, consumers and society as a whole.
– Resolution

The European Parliament's industry committee said in its resolution that "any solution proposed on the issue of net neutrality should ensure a common European approach".

The campaigning group La Quadrature du Net welcomed the committee vote. Its spokesman Jérémie Zimmermann noted it is "a political commitment from the European Parliament in favour of net neutrality, [aiming] to prevent telecom operators from restricting internet access".

However, La Quad claimed separately on Wednesday that the resolution's recognition that "reasonable traffic management is required to ensure that the end user's connectivity is not disrupted by network congestion" was a "major loophole allowing operators to implement internet access restrictions on the pretext of managing congestion".

"Mrs Kroes must break away from her wait-and-see approach and take action to effectively protect competition, innovation as well as citizens' freedom of expression and privacy online," Zimmermann added on Thursday.

The European Competitive Telecommunications Association (Ecta), which represents the interests of small and new players in the telecoms market, also welcomed the vote.

"The European Parliament today has confirmed that effective competition is of paramount importance to guarantee that European consumers benefit from freedom of choice on the internet. Ecta joins the strong call of the Parliament to the European Commission and the Member States to ensure the enforcement of the telecom regulations to achieve this goal," the group said on Friday.

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