Two steps forward and two steps back on net neutrality

By EDRi · December 3, 2014

The last few weeks have generated a lot of noise but little progress on net neutrality. A few weeks ago, the European Parliament had a strong position on the subject, having adopted its first reading of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation in April, while the Council, despite the best efforts of the Italian presidency-in-office had no clear position at all.

Then, the Italian Presidency of the Council proposed a very negative draft “compromise” text, which would have severely undermined openness, freedom of communication and innovation online. After extensive discussion, including at ministerial level, the text was abandoned and even the Presidency itself distanced itself from the proposal.

Unsurprisingly, the Parliament was very disturbed by the attempt to overturn its position. As a result, in the middle of a rather chaotic non-legislative resolution on the “digital single market”, which managed to cover everything from the break-up of search engines to the protection of children, the Parliament adopted a clear statement demanding net neutrality. In particular, the resolution calls for “more legal certainty” for net neutrality and stresses that “all internet traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, irrespective of its sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application”. Separately, Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake wrote to the Council, supported by 130 colleagues, demanding progress on net neutrality and roaming.

So, two weeks ago, the Council did not have an agreed position and the Parliament did. Now, after all of this intense effort, the Council is as far from an agreed position as it ever was, while the Parliament has restated its position that it supports an open, competitive and innovative internet.

What next? Since the beginning of November, the new European Commission has taken office, with “better regulation” at the centre of its stated priorities. The Telecoms Single Market Regulation was adopted by the previous Commission without proper analysis and its net neutrality proposals are a badly written chaos of text which claims to be supportive of net neutrality, while building in numerous loopholes to prevent it. Despite the efforts of the Parliament to improve the text, there are persistent rumours that the new Commission may withdraw it.

In the Council, the telecoms industry lobbying is having its effect, with numerous myths and pieces of misinformation complicating and slowing down discussions. After six months of technical discussion under the Italian Presidency, little progress has been made, apart from wholesale deletions of large sections of the Commission’s badly-drafted text, on issues ranging from radio spectrum management to consumer protection. However, if majorities can be built for a political decision to be made on the key issues, roaming and net neutrality in particular, then it is possible that a decision could be made quite quickly.

At that stage, everything would be in the hands of the Parliament. For political and institutional reasons, it will be difficult for the Parliament to maintain its position on net neutrality, if the Council votes to undermine it. An absolute majority (half of all parliamentarians, and not just the ones voting) would need to vote to defend net neutrality, despite pressure from national governments on its own Parliamentarians, despite the MEP in charge being less than favourable to net neutrality and despite a short deadline to react to any agreement in the Council.

All of this means that, now more than ever, we need citizens to be vigilant to protect the openness of the internet. We have re-launched our campaign platform and we ask everyone to play their part. We also wrote to the Council of the EU and issued a press release.

Save the Internet

EDRi: European Parliament fights back hard on net neutrality (27.11.2014)

EDRi: Leaked documents show net neutrality may be in danger! (20.11.2014)

European Parliament Resolution of 27 November 2014 on supporting consumer rights in the digital single market (2014/2973(RSP)) (27.11.2014)

MEPs urge the Council to uphold net neutrality and roaming provisions (26.11.2014)

EDRi: Italian presidency abandons its net neutrality draft (28.11.2014)

Italian presidency statement on net neutrality (27.11.2014)

Press release: Civil society urges the Council to adopt real Net Neutrality (26.11.2014)

Letter to the Council

(Contribution by Joe McNamee, EDRi)