Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 concerning Open Internet Access, the new EU net neutrality law, has been published in EU’s Official Journal. But how open and neutral will Europe’s internet really be from April next year?
I would like to dismiss the general criticism, often heard in relation to said Regulation, that having a weak net neutrality law is worse than having no law at all. The new EU net neutrality law indeed prevents European telcos and ISPs from building ‘walled gardens’ and calling them ‘Internet’. It further prevents any discriminatory traffic management measures and imposes strong transparency obligations when such measures take place.
However, the concerns that the new EU net neutrality law is overly lenient when it comes to ‘specific’ or ‘specialised’ services such as IPTV or last-mile managed VoIP should not be dismissed altogether, especially because the blanket permission to provide them is only accompanied by a rather vague protection of open internet access packaged together with such services. If ‘sufficient’ network capacity is about to be interpreted as freely as ‘functional internet access’ as part of universal service, the users might well be doomed relying on the Regulation’s provision. Luckily, European telcos and ISPs have no intention of dooming their subscribers. But again, if the market itself were enough to solve the problem, the efforts by European legislators might as well not be needed.
More critically, the reluctance of the new EU net neutrality law to regulate ‘zero rating’ mobile services might backfire. Whilst Europeans might not be facing internet.org-style experiments, the continent’s mobile operators have not been all that generous with their data allowances either. Offering some selected ‘specific’ data-gobbling services such as music or video at ‘zero rate’ might as well open Pandora’s box of ‘walled gardens’.
The question remains though whether Member States like Slovenia or the Netherlands will be allowed to keep their own stricter ‘net neutrality’ laws. If European Commission is of that view, the new EU net neutrality law should be praised as the lifting of the continent’s minimum standards. If not, it might as well be seen as bringing them down to the lowest common denominator.