The new rules would mean all web traffic will remain the same in the EU regardless of the services they use like Netflix, but 'specialised services' could end up creating an internet fast lane. AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
unequal access?

The EU decides on net neutrality rules, but not everyone is happy with it

Critics have said the introduction of ‘specialised services’ could end up creating a fast-lane for internet traffic.

ALONGSIDE THE ANNOUNCEMENT that roaming charges will be scrapped entirely by June 2017, the European Parliament also announced a new proposal that all view all internet traffic as equal.

The terms of the proposal was decided after a late-night meeting in Brussels following months of negotiation.

Under the proposal, all users in the EU will be free to access sites without fear of being blocked or slowed down by external forces through the ‘open internet’.

Paid prioritisation will not be allowed under this open internet and blocking and throttling will only be allowed in certain circumstances like preventing traffic congestion or countering cyber-attacks.

The part that is being criticised is the inclusion of ‘specialised services’ and how it worded. The European Commission says it caters for services that would require faster connections like HD video conferencing, internet TV and telesurgery, provided they do not hinder other users.

The new EU net neutrality rules guarantee the open internet and enable the provision of specialised or innovative services on condition that they do not harm the open internet access.

It does address the concern of fair competition by saying both startups and large companies can expect the same treatment on the open internet, but the concern is that this doesn’t apply to specialised services.

It’s argued that the latter could allow anyone to pay for faster services alongside the ‘open internet’, only accessible to those who can afford it.

The other is the inclusion of zero rating or sponsored connectivity which sees operators not counting data usage for certain services, as a way of reducing the user’s monthly data usage.

What this can result in is operators pushing users away from competitors’ content by not counting them as free to use. Companies could also pay for inclusion on this to ensure they get more traffic, making it harder for up and coming companies to get a foothold.

Some organisations aren’t happy about the measures. The director general of the European Consumer Organisation Monique Goyens said the safeguards against specialised services “are not strong enough.”

A robust Net Neutrality law involves protections against undue management of traffic and discriminatory commercial practices. What Europe is essentially saying here is that all internet data is born equal, but some is more equal than others. We applaud the new onus on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to treat traffic equally, but safeguards against the impact of ‘specialised services’ are not strong enough.

The EDRi (European Digital Rights) have called it an “abdication of responsibility,” and highlighted some key points of confusion, mainly the distinction between specialised services and the public internet and how specialised services are defined.

What is the point of agreeing to adopt legislation that makes the legal situation less clear than it was before? Now we have text which could mean almost anything – we did not need more legal uncertainty.”

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