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Net neutrality fight looms in Europe as MEPs prepare for a hard negotiation with the Council and Commission

mobile in the parliament

via Flickr © Amplified Group (CC BY 2.0)

In the US the executive branch has pushed through Net Neutrality with the Congress apparently ready to block or at least reverse the move, in Europe it’s the other way about.  The executive in the form of the EU Council of Ministers and the European Commission is working to water down the net neutrality legislation still wending its way through the Euro machine. The European Parliament may be ready make a stand

Dutch Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake is predicting a big fight. It’s not just net neutrality, the Council of Ministers has announced that instead of mobile roaming being abolished it will just be gradually capped. Abolition may only be considered in 2018.   

Schaake has therefore sent a letter to the ministers of the Telecoms Council telling them to get a grip and not be influenced by the vociferous telco lobby. “Weakened proposals on net neutrality go against the European Parliament's repeated calls for clear definitions,” she wrote. “We must ensure consumers are protected, innovative startups can develop and competition on the open internet is fair. We call on you to adopt proposals that put an end to roaming charges as soon as possible, and to have clearly defined net neutrality rules for Europe. “

Nothing too rousing there, you might think.  But the MEP managed to get endorsement from 126 other MEPs who co-signed the letter -  that must lend some weight.

The position of the Telecoms Council will become clear in a few days time on March 13. Then the Commission, Parliament and Council  negotiate to come up with a compromise.  

“As it looks now, this will be a hard confrontation… Even though people are making grand statements on what this would mean, the goals of the Council are currently far off from the necessity to shape the economy of the future,” she is quoted as saying.

And she is right to be worried.  

Günther Oettinger, Digital Economy and Society Commissioner and due to address MWC had already hinted at the direction of travel within the commission. In January he said that: “Rules governing net neutrality in the EU as part of the Telecom Single Market will clearly need to give service providers room to develop services including IPTV that need “a certain transmission quality in order to work”.

This despite the fact that  video ‘DOESN’T’ need special ‘premium’ treatment to work since most of us have  been happily watching it on neutral broadband links for years - even across relatively slow BT DSL I enjoy nearly flawless BBC catch-up TV.

“We need a balanced approach: on the one hand no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services, while at the same time guaranteeing efficient network management, and leaving space for continued network and service innovation,” he continued.

The way things are shaping up - and you have to read between the lines with a strong magnifying glass and under ideal lighting conditions - a ‘permissive’ version of specialised services is clearly going to be negotiated into the single market legislation.

At Mobile World Congress this week Oettinger continued the theme, which might be described as the “cut them some slack, a little bit of non-neutrality won’t do anyone any harm,“ option.

The focus this time was on 5G. It boiled down to implying that to win at 5G (which appears now to be the European industrial strategy) and to get the telcos to invest and make the whole effort a roaring success, net neutrality would have to be loosened somewhat.

“Everybody and everything will use 5G. Anywhere, at any time, and on the move, always best connected with almost zero delay and a perceived limitless capacity. Today, we can celebrate that Europe is back in front to continue the journey towards this bright 5G future.”

It that were to be the case it’s difficult to see why you would need specialised services charging upstream providers to enable this hyped up version of the bright new future to become a reality.

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