Vienna, city of diplomacy and birthplace of countless international deals, will soon host crucial negotiations on the future of the open internet. On 3 June, EU Telecom regulators will gather in Vienna to discuss the implementation of new EU Net Neutrality laws. Following mass mobilisation in India and the USA, the expectations to deliver real net neutrality are high.
The net neutrality principle requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs, e.g. Vodafone or O2) to treat internet traffic equally. It prohibits them from blocking or slowing down certain data, and from dividing the internet into “fast lanes” and “slow lanes”. Net neutrality laws are crucial to ensure fair competition between online services, to protect innovation and consumer choice, and ultimately to safeguard online expression and media pluralism.
In October 2015, the EU passed its net neutrality Regulation, which aims to uphold net neutrality, but at the same time contains some ambiguities and loopholes. Now the body of European telecommunications regulators (BEREC) must produce guidelines to ensure a common interpretation of this Regulation. Depending on how they interpret the ambiguities in the legal text, they could either make or break net neutrality in Europe.
The Regulation is unclear on three topics:
- Traffic Management: measures intended to handle network congestion and optimise efficiency. The guidelines need to ensure that any such measures are implemented in a non-discriminatory way;
- Zero rating: which, depending on how you read the Regulation, can be interpreted as being both banned and permitted; and
- Specialised Services, whose vague definition could be exploited to permit paid fast lanes for big online services.
For each of these issues, an overly permissive interpretation could fundamentally undermine the principle of net neutrality, and thus the entire aim of the Regulation. BEREC has the power not to allow this, and you can help BEREC to make the right decision.
The EU legislators have required BEREC to draft their guidelines on the basis of a public consultation. Everyone, from multinational corporations to individual citizens, will be able to respond to this consultation from 6 June to 18 July 2016. The launch of the consultation will be accompanied by a draft version of the guidelines. BEREC will convene plenary sessions in Vienna on 2 and 3 June to finalise this draft.
SaveTheInternet.eu, an international coalition of 23 civil society organisations including EDRi, AccessNow, and FightForTheFuture, has announced a public demonstration in Vienna during the BEREC plenary. It is not often that telecommunications policy elicits such a strong public response, let alone real-world demonstrations. By taking to the streets, activists from the SaveTheInternet coalition are urging BEREC to adopt a strong, unambiguous interpretation of the net neutrality Regulation.
Prior to the official consulation, EDRi and its SaveTheInternet.eu partners have also launched a consultation tool on their website, in order to make the consultation process more accessible to citizens. SaveTheInternet.eu also offers easily digestible information on the issues mentioned above: traffic management, zero rating, and specialised services. The activists seek to replicate successes from India, Brazil and the USA, where massive responses played a crucial part in the push for an effective net neutrality reform. A similar response from EU citizens and businesses will make it even harder for BEREC to ignore what civil society and entrepreneurs have been advocating for years: strong net neutrality rules are crucial to ensuring fair, equal and open Internet access.
The EU Net Neutrality Regulation (26.11.2015)
SaveTheInternet.eu home page & consultation tool
EDRi: Civil society open letter on Net Neutrality (02.05.2016)
EDRi: Net Neutrality document pool
Timeline for the BEREC consultation
EDRi: Press Release: SaveTheInternet – Final consultation to save the open Internet in Europe (31.03.2016)
EDRi: Holland and India prohibit zero-rating: the first of many? (10.02.2016)
(Contribution by Paddy Leersen, AK Vorrat Austria)