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Net Neutrality

Anyone involved in the industry today will know of the powerful technical capabilities now in the hands of those telecoms companies. Deep packet inspection and traffic management systems make blocking, prioritisation, discrimination of different types of traffic not only possible, but happening. The neutrality on which the Internet is based - and which is indeed essential for the proper functioning of a communications network - is under threat, and our policy-makers are spineless in the face of large commercial interests.

When one writes about this subject of net neutrality, it is impossible to ignore these factors. Indeed, I believe that policy writing which fails to tackle them, would lack credibiility. This section will therefore discuss the threats to the Internet posed by these counter-neutral technologies, and their policy implications. And it will take a critical look at the politicking of the people in power in the EU.

Until 2009, the European Union did not have a policy on net neutrality. The reason why net neutrality is now on the EU policy agenda, is a direct result of events that occurred during the 2009 Telecoms Package process. Pressure from citizens groups forced the issue in the European Parliament. The rapporteur, Catherine Trautmann played a tight hand with the other EU institutions, which resulted in an instruction to the Commission.

The outcome was a public seminar on net neutrality and consultation process, which invited responses from citizen stakeholders as well as industry. So far, so good. However, the process was criticised as a cosmetic exercise, and the Commission's response as a weak sop to the dominant telecoms industry lobbyists.

Since then the policy has moved on, and in 2014 the European Parliament adopted a series of provisions that sought to enshrine net neutrality into EU law. AS a consequence of those provisions, a new political battle within the EU has begun. It won't end without bitter recriminations and some digital blood letting. This political battle that looks set to be the determining one fo rthis issue, and there are many economic factors at stake.

If you are interested in net neutrality and how it has been addressed by EU and US policy, you may like my book The Closing of the Net .

If you are interested in copyright policy, you may like my previous books A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms and The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the 'Telecoms Package'

Proposed joint EU-US rules for the telecommunications industry pose a threat to net neutrality and to citizens' rights in general. Drafts leaked earlier this week of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Parnership (TTIP ) telecoms chapter, indicate that powers of regulators such as Ofcom could be neutered, and any action that a regulator might take could be challenged by industry. This is a serious matter for Europe, where US telecoms companies have been lobbying for a re-structuring of the European telecoms industry, and it extends the corporate threat from TTIP that has been highlighted in other sectors.

Read more: TTIP leaks: telecoms proposals threaten net neutrality & citizens rights

A new EU telecoms law adopted on Tuesday (27 October 2015) should mean lower mobile Internet bills for travellers but threatens also to ride roughshod over net neutrality - or does it? We know there has been a political deal but what does it really mean for policy-makers.

Read more: EU drops the net neutrality principle - will it mean content restrictions?

Will the Internet's future be decided by politics and not by principle?

The European Parliament will take a crucial vote on net neutrality in a couple of hours' time. From the debate this morning, the political undertones of this vote are coming out. What is clear is that the Parliament allowed itself to be pressured by the Council of Ministers. That is not good for European democracy. Nor is it good for the Internet.

Read more: EU net neutrality - how political is this decision?

Tomorrow a crucial vote in the European Parliament will decide whether Europe supports the principle of net neutrality. A proposal will be put before the Parliament that is headed 'open internet access' and will be touted as protecting net neutrality. However, it is highly contoversial, because it threatens to open the door to zero-rating of content. Amendments have been tabled that would protect net neutrality and their acceptance could be crucial for the future of the Internet.

The Parliament has the choice to doff its cap to the Council of ministers or to stand up for itself as a democratic institution and support its own position.

Read more: Net neutrality or zero rating? Tomorrow's EU vote will decide

We fixed net neutrality - says who?

EU officials are claiming to have 'fixed' net neutrality after a late night session to thrash out a deal on telecoms. From what can be ascertained, the deal gets rid of roaming charges on mobile phones, in return for the network operators - fixed and mobile - being allowed to do preferential deals over content inside bandwidth caps - so-called zero-rating. The EU has been wanting to abolish roaming charges for some time, against resistance from the network operators, who would lose revenue. It seems that zero-rating is the political quid pro quo, and if it is so, then we are witnessing a clever piece of smoke and mirrors.

Read more: EU officials after-midnight deal to fix net neutrality - but have they really done it?

International talks on a secret deal over trade in services threaten to overturn to net neutrality policies currently on the table on both sides of the Atlantic. Instead, back-room negotiators could put in place an international framework that leaves the door open for restrictive behaviour by the telecommunications companies that run the Internet.

Read more: Will TISA endeavours wipe net neutrality?

After much anticipation, the EU Council of Ministers released its net neutrality mandate last week. The announcement follows some highly political back-room wrangling, which has resulted in a text - seen by Iptegrity - that creates some very murky waters around Internet fast lanes, filtering and specialised services. The Council now goes into the so-called 'trilogue' talks with the European Parliament, and the prospect of a political battle looms.

Read more: Prioritising filtering and fast lanes - the EU Council reveals 'net neutrality' mandate

Yesterday's net neutrality announcement by the FCC was a Red Letter day for Internet freedom in the US. How will the European Union react ?

The United States telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, yesterday confirmed its policy direction in favour of net neutrality. It has ordered that broadband providers are to come under the common carriage regulation, which means they must neither prevent nor favour traffic, but take all on an equal basis. The FCC's message is simple and clear: no blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes. The rule applies equally to mobile and fixed network providers. Meanwhile, in the deep, non-enlightened corridors of Brussels, the EU is threatening measures that would embed exactly

Read more: The FCC orders to protect net neutrality - how will Europe react?

Following the astonishing decision last week by the US Federal Communications Commission on protecting the open Internet - no blocking, no fast lanes, no throttling - the European Parliament today begins the political defence of net neutrality on this side of the Atlantic. At around midday today, the Parliament will take a

Read more: EU Parliament steels its resolve on net neutrality

Opt-outs for self-regulatory filtering and FacebookZero plans? Is this really net neutrality?

The Council of Ministers is to focus on net neutrality and roaming and throw out the remaining provisions in the EU Telecoms Regulation. It's aiming for an agreement by March, so that it can open negotiations with the European Parliament. Unfortunately for those who may be hoping for a net neutrality law in Europe, the discussions are going the wrong way, with a number of get-outs being proposed to help those governments that want to permit their Internet providers to block, filter or favour.

Read more: Working towards a disconnected Continent - net neutrality gets the EU Council treatment

Who would knowingly request the invasion of their privacy and violation of their free speech rights?

There are rumours that the Council of Ministers of the European Union is reviewing its proposal on net neutrality that leaked recently. However, there seem to be many observers who are puzzled by one piece of language in the proposal. That is the phrase "except where specifically requested by an end-user". Why would the EU Council would consider an individual 'requesting' traffic management as an exception to a net neutrality rule? I put forward one possible answer.

Read more: EU net neutrality battle: what end-user requests traffic management?

The Council of Ministers is sharply divided over the net neutrality provisions in the new Telecoms Regulation. The split within the Council emerged today in a meeting of the Telecoms Council, where all 28 EU member governments gave their view on the Council's new proposals for net neutrality. Broadly, the positions line up with the Dutch and Slovenians who are not happy with the Council's text, and (sadly) the Brits at the diametrically opposite position, who support it.

Read more: EU Council divided over net neutrality law

After President Obama's recent statement in support of a strong net neutrality law, many European citizens will be disappointed at the EU's latest position as the political battle for the Internet reprises.

The EU's net neutrality battle is starting up again after a few months' hiatus. It's all happening around the Telecoms Regulation, that was adopted last March by the European Parliament with a ground-breaking provision to enshrine net neutrality into EU law. Naturally, the large telecoms corporations are up in arms against it, and now documents - seen by Iptegrity - have emerged from the Council of Ministers that reveal an attempt to erase it. And, the Council proposals will enshrine traffic management as the principle for running the Internet.

Read more: Is the EU Council trying to delete net neutrality?

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.