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European Commission pushes for net neutrality and end to roaming fees

European Commission pushes for net neutrality and end to roaming fees

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The European Commission (EC) today agreed to adopt its ambitious "connected continent" plan, which includes wide-reaching net neutrality and telecoms regulation. After aiming to put an end to roaming fees in 2014, the European Commission (EC) has unveiled its plan to coax carriers into doing so. New legislation approved by the EC this morning doesn't represent a demand to end roaming, but instead looks to make life difficult for Europe's carriers if they don't get on board with the plan.

The EC is taking the 'carrot and stick' approach with carriers

The one firm rule agreed upon by the EC is that, starting 2014, all carriers will have to stop charging for incoming calls received when abroad. Its plan for other roaming fees is to persuade carriers to adopt a "roam like at home" strategy, whereby all minutes, text messages, and data from your monthly plan can be used in any EU member state without extra charge. Should carriers implement charge-free roaming by 2014, they'll enjoy lighter regulations moving forward.

If any carrier doesn't move over to the "roam like at home" system, its customers will be free to choose another provider for international calls, texts, and data, without changing their SIM card or receiving a second bill. It's hoped that the threat of giving carriers' customers free choice will push the telecoms industry into dropping roaming fees.

Plans for a 'super regulator' have been scrapped

There are a few concessions the EC has made in order to push through the legislative package. A plan that would have introduced a singular central telecoms regulator has been abandoned. Sources familiar with the matter tell The Verge that the commission was "very keen" on introducing a "super regulator" that would have power over all 28 states. The regulator would have removed some of the power that local authorities wield over their carriers, allowing the EC to "more effectively control the market." At some point during the negotiation process, that plan was dropped.

Net Neutrality is in there, with a few exceptions

The EC today also adopted a net neutrality plan that closely tracks the FCC's Open Internet policy. The new rules forbid ISPs from throttling or blocking internet content, or from "traffic shaping" practices. As with any legislation there are exceptions. Under the rules, illegal content can be blocked by ISPs — the definition of 'illegal' obviously differs from country to country. ISPs will still be able to provide "specialized services" like IPTV, on-demand video, and "business-critical cloud applications" priority, but only if it doesn't interfere with the internet speeds promised to other customers.

"Consumers must get the package they pay for," says EC vice president Neelie Kroes, "they would have the right to check if they are receiving the internet speeds they pay for, and to walk away from their contract if those commitments are not met." In the US, the FCC's net neutrality legislation is stuck in the courts with Verizon, but the EC believes this policy won't be contested by European providers. It's down to the European Parliament to vote and pass the Commission's proposal.