Just one week after the American government voted to enforce net neutrality, the European Union is considering plans allowing the opposite: permitting internet providers to create a tiered internet service with paid fast lanes. A proposal put forward by Latvia would reportedly allow telecoms companies to "enter into agreements" with companies and individuals to provide faster internet speeds — so long as these deals do not impair other users' connections.
The plans are currently being voted on by representatives from the 28 EU member states and, if they are passed, will then be debated by the European Commission and the European Parliament. Only if an agreement between these two bodies and EU member states is reached will the proposals become law.
"neutrality is important [but] the question is how to define special services on top."
Speaking at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, EU digital chief Günther Oettinger said that the rules might be agreed as early as summer this year. "Access to the Internet and neutrality for our consumers is an important goal," The Wall Street Journal reports Mr. Oettinger as saying. "The question is how to define special services on top."
telecoms say a "light-touch" is necessary
Telecom operators welcomed the proposals, claiming that only a "light-touch" approach to net neutrality would allow the growth of the EU's "digital single market" — the plan to unify Europe's digital industry with shared laws for digital matters such as online payments and mobile data. Financial Times reports that the chief executives of both Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone argued at MWC that a tiered internet was necessary to ensure essential services such as connected cars and health care would not be impaired in the future.
Liberal politicians within the EU strongly condemned the proposals, with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) commenting that the "drafts that are circulating clearly demonstrate that Members States are more interested in defending the interests of their national telecom operators than creating real competition."
"current proposals are ambivalent."
Marietje Schaake, an European MEP and a spokesperson for ALDE added: "We need clearly defined net neutrality in Europe, to build a future proof digital single market. Current proposals are ambivalent and can lead to commercial practices that go against consumer interests, against innovative startups, and against fair competition in the digital economy."
It's not clear what the prospects of these proposals currently are, especially as they only exist in leaked forms. However, even if the EU council approves them, before they become law the plans will still need to be debated by the European Parliament — an EU body that has been more strongly in favor of laws enforcing strict net neutrality than individual member states.