By David Meyer
European fans of the open internet can breathe a sigh of relief: the European parliament has passed a major package of telecoms law reform, complete with amendments that properly define and protect net neutrality.
The amendments (PDF) were introduced by the Socialists, Liberal, Green and Left blocs in the European Parliament after the final committee to tweak the package – the industry committee – left in a bunch of loopholes that would have allowed telcos to start classifying web services of their choice as “specialized services” that they can treat differently.
It’s a good thing the net neutrality argument didn’t sink the whole package, as it also includes new laws to eliminate roaming fees within Europe, creating a truly single market for telecoms services. Now the whole package gets passed through to the next Parliament (elections are coming up in May), then the representatives of European countries for final approval.
In a statement, Amelia Anderdotter, the Swedish MEP who heads up the Pirate faction in the European Parliament, said:
“Thankfully, a majority of MEPs has seen sense today and voted to uphold the principle of net neutrality in the EU. The proposals by the Commission, which would essentially have given large providers the all-clear for discriminating against users as they see fit, have been revised. Today’s vote would explicitly provide for net neutrality and will hopefully ensure a level playing field for all online services and users, providing for a more open internet environment in which innovation is encouraged.”
Not all the amendments were passed by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) but the big ones got through. Amendment 234 gave a strong definition for net neutrality:
“Net neutrality” means the principle according to which all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application.
Amendment 235 gave a strong definition of specialized services, making it clear that ISPs can’t simply decide Netflix, for example, is no longer a standard internet service:
“Specialised service” means an electronic communications service optimised for specific content, applications or services, or a combination thereof, provided over logically distinct capacity, relying on strict admission control, offering functionality requiring enhanced quality from end to end, and that is not marketed or usable as a substitute for internet access service.
And Amendment 236 hammered that point home:
Providers of internet access, of electronic communications to the public and providers of content, applications and services shall be free to offer specialised services to end-users. Such services shall only be offered if the network capacity is sufficient to provide them in addition to internet access services and they are not to the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services. Providers of internet access to end-users shall not discriminate between functionally equivalent services and applications.