By Thomas Lohninger

The battle to preserve the open internet is reaching its final stage, with the big European Parliament vote taking place on April 3rd. The report adopted by the Industry Committee two weeks ago includes provisions undermining the principle of net neutrality, putting the open internet and freedom of speech at risk. The good news is that four political groups have tabled proposals for final vote that would prevent discrimination and enshrine real net neutrality in law. Now it is up to our representatives to choose – openness and competition or closed, uncompetitive networks.

It was a lack of leadership in the European Parliament that led the Industry Committee to table such an incoherent and damaging text. Although the Parliament has repeatedly called for binding net neutrality legislation, the conservative Parliamentarian responsible for the dossier, Pilar del Castillo, supported the  European Commission’s efforts to manipulate the Parliament into accepting a flawed proposal. The Commission’s text ostensibly promises net neutrality but, in practice, contains more than loopholes to allow telecoms companies to act anti-competitively.

Ms Del Castillo put forward a report for the Industry Committee that undermines the majority of the tabled amendments in other Committees and even those from her own party. Her report would discrimination between services, restricting competition, innovation and choice. Now, the leaders of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Greens and Green United Left (GUE/NGL) have put forward amendments that would repair these loopholes and effectively prevent discrimination on the internet. The liberal group has shown considerable political leadership by promoting a pro-competition, pro-innovation, pro-net-neutrality agenda. Marietje Schaake (Netherlands) and Jens Rohde (Denmark) have tabled a key set of pro-competitive amendments on behalf of the ALDE group. Catherine Trautmann (S&D, France), Amelia Andersdotter (Greens, Sweden) and Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL, Germany) have jointly tabled a bigger package of amendments which includes the changes proposed by ALDE but proposes further improvements in the area of enforcement and application of the Regulation by the national regulatory authorities. For the rules to be effective, they will have to be enforced by national regulators who need a clear mandate to act. These two set of amendments combined will provide world-leading safeguards for net neutrality.

Members of the European Parliament, just weeks before the European Parliament elections, have the opportunity not just to create legal protection for the open, competitive Internet in Europe, they have the possibility to set a standard for the world. Will Europe take a world-leading position in favour of open networks, competition and innovation. Or will the European Parliament, after calling repeatedly for legislation, fall at the last hurdle?