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Europe does what the US won't by agreeing to strong net neutrality law

Europe does what the US won't by agreeing to strong net neutrality law


Broad telecom reforms would also end roaming fees by December 2015

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While Netflix battles ISPs like Comcast over net neutrality, the European Parliament has just voted in favor of a new law that would prevent similar issues occurring in Europe. The legislation calls for all internet traffic to be treated equally, "without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of the sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application." That means, within the EU at least, ISPs will not be able to give preference to one service over another, theoretically ensuring that customers will receive the maximum speeds possible from all websites. Although in practice there are numerous factors that can slow down sites and services, the net neutrality law would stop an ISP from being one of those factors. The one exception to this rule is that ISPs can slow down traffic to ease congestion, but they must do so on a non-discriminatory basis, rather than by traffic shaping and slowing certain services.

ISP's won't be able to charge companies for good service

The bill has been the subject of intense negotiation, as lawmakers and industry representatives debated over the precise terms. Those fighting hardest for net neutrality were unhappy with amendments that came from an industry committee, saying that they left major loopholes in the legislation. The latest set of amendments would make it illegal for ISPs to suddenly decide that a website is a "specialized service." The importance of this amendment is huge: in the US, Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast a considerable amount of money for a "direct route" to customers that ensures a good level of service. Under the EU proposal, it would not be up to an ISP such as Comcast to decide that Netflix is somehow different to other websites.

The new language used implies that a website like Netflix, which logistically acts much like any video-streaming website, could not be defined as a specialized service just because it happens to be popular. The specialized services concession, instead, simply allows ISPs to setup or facilitate services that bypass certain infrastructures in order to provide a high quality of service. Ways this provision may be used are a little hazy, but examples provided include video conferencing services and medical uses. ISPs would be able to charge these services a premium in order to get a direct route, but that route cannot negatively impact the speed or quality of the internet in general. The law also clearly says that ISPs "shall not discriminate between functionally equivalent services and applications," meaning that, for example, Skype couldn't pay an ISP money to ensure it has more bandwidth available than Google Hangouts.

The end of roaming fees by December 2015

Today's agreement is part of wider telecom reforms dubbed "Connected Continent," which will also put an end to roaming fees within the European Union by December 2015, essentially creating a "single telecoms market" for all EU nations. There are caveats to the end of roaming, namely a "reasonable use" provision. This is not intended to cap the amount of data or calls you make abroad, but would instead limit individuals from buying a phone contract in, for example, Lithuania, and using it exclusively in the UK in order to benefit from the country's lower contract pricing.

Now that the language of the net neutrality law and the end of roaming have been agreed upon, the legislation will go through a somewhat lengthy review process. It's expected that a final agreement will be reached by the end of 2014.