European lawmakers’ decision to kick out net neutrality amendments leaves market in limbo

4 Dec 2015

The EU parliament has decided to adopt the Telecoms Single Market (TSM) bill, but crucially stopped short of adding the amendment that would clarify the position on net neutrality, leaving critics concerned that telecoms service providers are now free to carve broadband internet services into so-called ‘fast and slow lanes’. The TSM, which first saw the light of day in 2013, has been the subject of strident debate and the focus of lobbying by the telecommunications industry. Critics of the legislation argued that all telcos should be required to abide by net neutrality principles and ensure that all internet traffic be treated the same – i.e. ensuring that no ISPs shunt customers into ‘slow lane’ connections if they refuse to pay more for a de facto ‘fast lane’ service. Despite their concerns, though, the TSM has been passed without the net neutrality amendment, leaving an ambiguous state of affairs that could be exploited by operators. ‘MEPs have passed the buck on net neutrality. They have voted for an unclear and ambiguous piece of net neutrality legislation that fails to mention net neutrality. It is now up to national telecoms regulators to decide whether all our internet traffic should be treated equally or whether rich companies will be able to outbid their smaller competitors for faster delivery of their services,’ said Jim Killock of UK digital rights organisation Open Rights Group.

In June this year, TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate reported that the European Parliament, Council and Commission had reached agreement on the key elements of a single European telecoms market, to end roaming charges for consumers when travelling within the EU, effective 15 June 2017. At that date it also confirmed that it was considering new rules to ‘enshrine the principle of net neutrality into EU law: no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services,’ suggesting that the common EU-wide internet rules would ‘contribute to a single market and reverse current fragmentation’, while declaring that every European must be able to have access to the open internet and all content and service providers must be able to provide their services via a high-quality open internet, while all traffic would be treated equally.