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Has the E.U. Killed Net Neutrality in Europe?

Although fast lanes and zero ratings have been outlawed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the net neutrality order passed earlier this year, Europe however has ideas of their own on what constitutes as ‘net neutrality’.

In a European Union parliamentary voting this past Tuesday, the good news is that the E.U. has passed legislations to ‘protect net neutrality’. The bad news? These so-called ‘net neutrality’ regulations are brimming with major loopholes. The new legislation passed by the E.U. allows the creation of internet fast lanes for ‘specialized services’ and permits Internet service providers (ISPs) to offer zero-rating products, the very preferential treatment that net neutrality is supposed to restrict.

 

Net neutrality, fast lanes & zero ratings

Imagine this scenario: you are eager to log onto your favourite website or play your video game or movie, when suddenly you find that your access has been blocked unless you paid extra! This horror story could well be a reality if it were not for regulations of net neutrality in place governing the freedom of neutral access to the internet.

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Source: Mike Thompson

Net neutrality is about the idea of fairness. Net neutrality holds that ISPs should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favour of particular apps, sites or services. This means that ISPs are banned from blocking lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. The basis of net neutrality bills are an attempt to make sure there is no prioritization of some web traffic over others.

Internet fast lanes and slow lanes are the two-tiered classes of the Internet. Fast lanes give the power to ISPs to decide who gets good access to the Internet, or who would be left hanging over painfully-long buffering videos. Fast lanes tend to favour big providers like Google, Apple, and Netflix over smaller competitors. Big firms who are able to pay for faster access will reap the benefits of getting their content delivered promptly. Small businesses that are unable to pay will be shut out of the market.

paid special access

Source: Steve Sack

Zero rating, on the other hand, is the practice of allowing zero-rating products such as apps and services that will not count towards monthly data allowances. This will allow ISPs to favour certain services in commercial deals and provide web access for free to users for certain services (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Wikipedia). In fact, a few countries such as Japan, Norway, Chile, Estonia and others have banned this anti-competitive practice as this policy hinders openness and competition, but rather gives large companies whose data services are zero-rated an unfair advantage over others.

net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now-infographic

Source: Whoishostingthis

With the newly adopted E.U. legislations, it will authorise ISPs to speed up or throttle the speed of traffic which will be given priority based on what sort of data is being sent according to its claimed Quality of Service (QoS) requirements. For instance, making video calls may be optimized because it demands fast connections and considered more important than email traffic, which may be allowed to lag.

Concerns have been raised relating to the potential decrease in speeds of encrypted internet traffic because ISPs would not be able to ascertain the type of data contained in them. Activists claim that if ISPs are unable to classify encrypted data, they will just slow it down by default. Many ISPs lump all encrypted services together in a single class, and throttle that class. That could have serious implications for consumer privacy at a time of heightened concerns over government surveillance.

“All the amendments have been rejected, the text as it is has been preserved. That means it is very weak, it lacks definition of net neutrality – it doesn’t even have ‘net neutrality’ in the text, so how can it protect it? In the big picture, this does not ensure net neutrality” – spokesperson of La Quadrature du Net, Internet rights campaign group.

However, not all hope is lost for net neutrality advocates. Since the legislation has been approved by the European Parliament, the Body of European Regulators (BEREC) now has nine months to pass on guidelines to each member nation. Both parties interpretation will determine to which extent the freedom of the internet user is protected under these new E.U. regulations. Rejo Zenger, Dutch advocate of Bits of Freedom which focuses on privacy and communications freedom in the digital age, still believes there is time to convince the European Commission to close these loopholes that are still present.

 

Sources

[1] Fortune

[2] Wired

[3] The Verge

[4] The Verge

[5] SC Magazine

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