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Europe's New Net Neutrality Law Draws Jeers

By Richard Adhikari E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Oct 28, 2015 3:15 PM PT

The European Parliament on Tuesday passed Net neutrality legislation to a chorus of boos from Net neutrality proponents.

Europe's New Net Neutrality Law Draws Jeers

The European Union has found consensus on the common principles of Net neutrality -- no blocking, no throttling and no prepaid prioritization -- said GŁnther H. Oettinger, commissioner for the digital economy and society. All traffic has to be treated equally on the Internet.

However, the rules have three major loopholes, Net neutrality supporters said: Providers can prioritize specialized services if they treat the open Internet equally; the rules allow "zero rating," which lets ISPs exempt apps from users' monthly bandwidth caps; and ISPs can implement traffic management measures and group some services into categories of traffic that can be sped up or slowed down when the ISPs want.

"Net neutrality on its surface is basically nondiscrimination writ large," said Mike Jude, a research manager at Frost & Sullivan.

"if you take the argument to its ridiculous extreme, it says everybody should be able to do what they want with no degradation of performance because that's discrimination, and you get unlimited connection for a ridiculously low price," he told the E-Commerce Times.

It's Still a Win

On the whole, European consumers do benefit from the new rules, but perhaps not as much as they could have, said Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"Having Net neutrality rules in place is a net gain for European users," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"It's a shame that they could not have been further improved to remove the few ambiguous areas that remained," Malcolm said. If the loopholes are abused, "regulators will have to rise to the challenge of combating these abuses."

Galloping Toward Net Neutrality

In addition to the rules listed above, wireless providers no longer will be allowed to block certain apps, such as Skype or FaceTime, or levy extra fees for using them, according to the EU.

Reasonable, day-to-day traffic management to optimize overall transmission quality based on justified technical requirements is allowed. It must independent of the origin or destination of the traffic and any commercial considerations.

ISPs can act to mitigate the effects of exceptional or temporary congestion if they treat all traffic in the same category the same way. Those whose networks are continuously or repeatedly congested must invest in expanding their capacity.

Providing specialized services such as IPTV, high-definition videoconferencing, or healthcare services such as telesurgery is allowed if the services don't harm open Internet access and are offered on top of such access.

This alarms Net neutrality advocates, but "many of the Net neutrality advocates are overreacting," said Doug Brake, telecom policy analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

"Allowing for flexibility around specialized services is totally legitimate," he told the E-Commerce Times. "This is not a loophole; instead, it provides much-needed room for growth of new applications that push the possibilities of current networks."

Zero rating is allowed if it doesn't prevent people from accessing the Internet content of their choice and doesn't discriminate in traffic management.

The Net neutrality provisions are part of an overall plan to create a digital single market for EU citizens in which they get equal access to the Internet and don't have to pay mobile phone roaming charges. This so-called "Connected Continent" was proposed in 2013.

Knee Strikes or Knee-Jerk Reactions?

Fear that any IP-based Internet service can be reclassified as a specialized service are "a worst-case interpretation," the EFF's Malcolm said. However, "the lack of clarity on this is a missed opportunity," and national regulatory authorities can redress this.

Still, It's sensible not to restrict the definition of specialized services to a closed list, he said, "given that this regulation might need to serve for decades to come."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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