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​Net neutrality in the EU: Still not all that neutral

Europe's version of net neutrality still allows a two-speed internet in some cases.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Europe has voted on new legislation that defines net neutrality in way critics fear could still allow for the emergence of a two-speed internet.

European MEPs on Tuesday voted down key amendments to the Telecoms Single Market regulation aimed at tightening up definitions of net neutrality and preventing discrimination of internet traffic by ISPs.

Proponents of net neutrality fear ambiguities that survived the vote still offer Europe's telecoms companies enough wiggle room to discriminate between types of traffic on the internet, which potentially risks creating a two-speed internet that favours companies that can afford to pay.

Sticking points in the bill were that it still allows for "zero rating" agreements, where an ISP can offer subscribers access to certain sites or services without it taking up a data plan, for example deals from a mobile network that allow subscribers to use a music streaming service without eating into a data quota.

Although consumers benefit, opponents say it could discriminate against alternatives.

The bill also allows for ISPs to create fast lanes for companies that pay through a "specialised services exception", according to Barbara van Schewick, a law professor at Stanford Law School and director of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

It leaves the decision of what qualifies for an exception up to to Europe's 28 national regulatory authorities to decide.

"Without strict interpretation of the text, there could potentially be 28 different implementations of the rules across Europe, causing risks of abuse, legal uncertainty for internet users and the internet industry," Estelle Masse, a policy analyst with Access Now noted recently.

Masse said on Tuesday that the bill prohibits "most but not all discrimination on the network" while ambiguities in the text could see some restrictive behaviour seep in.

Meanwhile, the other part of the bill that's been in the spotlight was the supposed end to roaming fees in the EU. Though the bill has been touted as an end to roaming this will occur around June 2017, following a review of the wholesale roaming market.

"Even if the review is completed by the 15 June 2017 deadline, roaming surcharges will only be suspended up to a 'fair use' limit beyond which they still apply and continue to hinder the breaking down of barriers within Europe," said Julia Reda, an MEP for the Pirate Party.

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