Alas, US outdoes EU in struggle for net neutrality

Published on 4 March 2015 categories 

In this blog series we keep you posted regularly on international developments in the area of net neutrality, i.e. the doctrine prohibiting Internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to big companies’ data traffic in exchange for additional payment. Previous blogs reported that the European Parliament has – finally – spoken out in favour of net neutrality and that, in spite of fierce resistance, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is again making efforts to steer this topic through Congress in the United States.

European Union

What’s interesting about this topic is that it is plainly visible how the powerful telecom lobby is trying to sway the net neutrality debate. To all appearances, the ambitious but manageable plans prepared by the European Parliament abolishing roaming charges and ensuring net neutrality across the European Union founder on opposition from the Council of Ministers. This EU body – the final hurdle for the adoption of the Telecoms Package – is preparing a response that will substantially weaken the net neutrality measures and delay the elimination of roaming charges. This is a tremendous ‘giving in’ to EU telecom providers, as the Council’s opinion will permit them to keep on charging European consumers. Moreover, these providers will be free to manage their data traffic, which could well have an adverse effect on small service companies. Incidentally, this also poses a risk to the Netherlands in spite of the net neutrality rules that have been implemented so far, bearing in mind that the Dutch government will be required to comply with European regulations in this respect if it ultimately comes to that. The Council’s opinion, when finalised, will be the starting point of a discussion with the European Parliament about the telecom plans. It is feared that the debate will focus mainly on the elimination of roaming charges, pushing the struggle for net neutrality into the background. It is even not inconceivable that the topic is swapped for a convenient roaming policy. In other words, there’s a fierce battle ahead whose outcome is by no means certain. The signs, however, are not good…

United States

There’s better news on this front from the United States. Despite opposition of its Republican members, the FCC has adopted strong rules favouring net neutrality. These rules provide that America’s broadband networks must continue to be fast, fair and open, to the benefit of all US consumers. Providers are banned from blocking access to services and content at random, throttling data traffic, and prioritising data traffic of certain service companies in exchange for additional payment.

It’s a known fact that the FCC is highly in favour of net neutrality, but US courts in particular are giving the regulator a hard time by invariably shooting down its plans on this topic (at the request of big telecom providers). This time, however, the FCC is confident that its plans will hold out, relying on a series of legal bases to legitimate the rules. Of course, the big telecom providers’ response is an easy one, so we are anxious to find out whether the FCC’s net neutrality plans can survive. At any rate, this government agency comes across as far more ambitious than the EU Council.

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Tomas Weermeijer


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