Surprise! European Union Adopts Net Neutrality Guidelines That Don't Suck
from the actually-listening-to-the-people dept
As we noted last October, the European Union passed net neutrality rules that not only don’t really protect net neutrality, but actually give ISPs across the EU member countries the green light to violate net neutrality consistently — just as long as ISPs are relatively clever about it. Just like the original, overturned 2010 net neutrality rules in the States, Europe’s new rules (which took effect April 30) are packed with all manner of loopholes giving exemption for “specialized services” and “class-based discrimination,” as well as giving the green light for zero rating.
Fortunately, the European Union’s Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) has been cooking up new guidelines to help European countries interpret and adopt the new rules. Under heavy pressure from net neutrality advocates overseas, the BEREC’s final guidelines have been published and they’re notably better than many people predicted. Much of the worst-offending loophole language has been trimmed back, despite earlier threats by European wireless providers that they’d withhold fifth-generation (5G) upgrades if the guidelines toughened up the rules (a common, empty bluff in telecom).
Much of the worrying language carving out tractor-trailer-sized loopholes for “specialized services,” or “class-based discrimination,” has been either pared back or clarified. The guidelines also strongly encourage EU member state governments to avoid letting ISPs block users looking to use their wireless phones as modems (aka “tethering”). BEREC also comes down harder on exempting some content from usage caps (aka “zero rating”), because as we’re seeing in the states (where regulators are actively encouraging the practice) it can be very easily used to try and hinder services that compete with an ISPs own offerings:
“…The zero price applied to the data traffic of the zero-rated music application creates an economic incentive to use that music application instead of competing ones. The effects of such a practice applied to a specific application are more likely to ?undermine the essence of the endusers’ rights? or lead to circumstances where ?end-users? choice is materially reduced in practice? (Recital 7) than when it is applied to an entire category of applications.
While an indisputably big win for net neutrality advocates (this item saw the biggest public feedback in the history of BEREC consultations), these are still guidelines, and actual rules and enforcement may still vary significantly among EU member states. Upon initial read there’s still numerous instances where bad behavior is still allowed if it’s justified (often flimsily) by the ISP as necessary for network health and security, a concept we’ve seen consistently abused here in the States. The phantom congestion bogeyman has long been useful to justify anti-competitive behavior in telecom markets worldwide.
In short this is a promising step forward for European net neutrality advocates, but just as in the States, net neutrality advocates need to be wary of thinking the fight is over. These are just cornerstone victories in a battle that will never truly end thanks to incumbent ISPs that will never stop looking for new, creative ways to abuse the lack of competition the broadband last mile. The less broadband competition in a market, the more intense the fight.