The EU Has Taken a Step Back From Net Neutrality

The reason the internet has found such a growing and all-encompassing popularity is due to the fact that it has allowed people unlimited access to information and communication. More specifically, any and all information, readily available – just a few keystrokes away. While that sounds great, there are no guarantees that the internet will remain that way forever. In fact, many telecom companies and other massive corporations are pushing for an entirely different internet, and to make matters worse, European lawmakers seem to be ok with it.

A few days ago, the European Parliament has voted against proposed rules intended to protect “net neutrality” in the European Union. To really understand why that could be a massive problem, let’s review what net neutrality actually is.

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What is net neutrality, and why should I care?

To put it simply, net neutrality is a principle that all data on the internet should be treated equally – specifically by governments and internet Service Providers. However, that’s not always the case, there have been many incidents of net neutrality being violated, and data is often discriminated against dependant on the content, site, platform, and mode of communication, amongst much else.

The most common example of net neutrality violation is perhaps ISPs throttling upload speeds from peer-to-peer file sharing applications, although the potential could be much more detrimental – more on that later.

On Monday, the EU Parliament rejected a series of amendments to a regulation on how internet traffic is managed in Europe, and the existing legislation will be developed into regulations. In short, the net neutrality laws will be put through, but in a crippled state. As unfortunate as that is, a lot of MEP’s simply voted for this option because it’s better than nothing – so to speak.

What are the consequences?

As far as the net neutrality laws go, there is a lot left to be desired. The language in the existing text of the rules is very vague, and many fear that it will be relatively easy for ISPs to strike deals with content providers. To list some examples — it is thought that “zero rating” agreements, where mobile customers can access services free of charge outside of their data plan, will become more popular.

Additionally, it will be possible for content providers (with larger wallets) to buy their way to the “fast lane” of the internet. In essence, this will allow companies to pay to have their data moved more quickly to the user. At first glance, this may seem beneficial to the customer (they are, after all, getting their request filled faster), but upon a closer look it’s not hard to see that this practice will hurt companies with smaller budgets, and in turn will stifle innovation.

Besides the amendments to the net neutrality law being rejected, the law itself is very unclear and has many unknowns. At the moment the rules and regulations surrounding “slow” and “fast lanes” are anyone’s guess. That said, the Body of European Regulators (BEREC) has nine months to issue guidelines. If that wasn’t enough, there is also the issue of how laws in Finland, Netherlands and Slovenia would be affected — seeing as all of them have special net neutrality protections in place.

Hopefully, the laws surrounding net neutrality become a little bit more clear come 2016, but in the meantime all we can do is wait.

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