Net Neutrality Lives: European Union Votes 534-25 In Landmark Decision

 
on April 03 2014 4:45 PM
A European Union flag is seen in front of the Parthenon temple in Athens
A European Union flag is seen on Feb. 21 in front of the Parthenon temple in Athens, Greece. REUTERS/John Kolesidis

The European Parliament voted in legislation Thursday requiring Internet Service Providers (ISP) to adhere to Net neutrality standards. Passing in an overwhelming landslide 534-25, European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes called the vote “historic,” and stated that equal treatment of internet traffic will eventually make “life less expensive” for consumers. The bill prevents European ISPs like Deutsche Telekom from hindering traffic or reserving the best part of their bandwidth for their own services.

The legislation, which does not go into effect immediately, now moves to the Council of Ministers. According to the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications, several ISPs have blocked or slowed down traffic for bandwidth-hungry programs like Skype. However, under the proposed new rules, ISPs can still sell tiered services linked to their own content, like cloud-based services or on-demand programing, "so long as these services are not supplied to 'the detriment of the availability or quality of Internet access services' offered to other companies or service suppliers," the parliament ruled.

This legislation comes two months after a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided in favor of Verizon in a U.S. case of similar proportion. Verizon claimed that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not have the authority to regulate fair treatment of traffic in the United States. However, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has stated that he intends to propose “rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic.” Within a month after the court’s decision, Netflix signed a deal with Comcast to prevent slowing of their traffic, which currently represents a third of all traffic in the U.S.

Many industry activists are cheering the new legislation. "Now the pressure turns to European leaders to listen to the people -- not Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica," said Luis Morago, campaign director of the activist group Avaaz.

But telecommunications groups are not pleased with the decision. According to the GSM Association, an industry group for telecoms, Net neutrality legislation will result in declining revenue for telecoms and is "impairing their ability to invest in the infrastructure required to put Europe back on the path to growth and jobs."

The EU also ruled to end wireless roaming charges for voice, SMS and data by Dec. 15, 2015. This decision comes amid recent sentiments in the EU. Last July, lawmakers limited the amounts that wireless carriers could charge for roaming services. On July 1, 2014 data will drop from 45 Euro cents to 20 cents per MB, voice calls will go from 24 cents to 19 cents and SMS will see a 25 percent reduction, from 8 cents to 6 cents per message.

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