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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.

Just to quickly remind ourselves, the Council put forward proposals which suggest a set of 'principles for traffic management' and offer a broad get-out for ISPs who want to (or are asked to) filter, and block content without necessarily having a court order*. ( Is the EU Council trying to delete net neutrality? ) The proposals come in the context of the new Telecoms Regulation and they follow a draft that was adopted by the European Parliament earlier this year.

The Dutch and Slovenians oppose these proposals because both of these countries already have a law enshrining net neutrality. The Council's proposals would pose legal issues for the ISPs in those countries. The Dutch said that: 'We cannot go with this text. It provides for blocking and discrimination at the request of the consumer, and the exceptions are formulated so broadly as to leave the opportunity for operators to circumvent net neutrality rules [...] without a ban on discrimination you end up with operators determining which services work and which fil. That would undermine innovation ant is not in the interests of consumers'.

Countries lining up behind the Dutch position include Poland, Estonia, Greece, Hungary and Finland.

The Dutch also called for the text to include a ban on price discrimination (that would address zero-rating and bandwidth caps). Estonia called for a definition of specialised services.

The Brits were looking somewhat alone in their opposite corner. Even the Germans and Spanish - whose telecoms companies are lobbying against net neutrality - expressed support for an open internet. The British spokesperson did not even give it lip service and was simply silent on the matter.

Of course, the Brits have made a bit of a mess of policy in this area, and are faced with actively filtering ISPs - arguably in breach of net neutrality and human rights law - who will be seriously exposed legally if Europe does go the route of a formal net neutrality law.

The purpose of the Council meeting was to try to come to an agreed position, in order to commence trilogue discussions with the European Parliament and Commission. As the above positions suggest, they didn't come to any such agreement and trilogues will be deferred until they do.

Commissioner Oettinger, who also spoke at the meeting, still doesn't get it. He thinks there are good prospects for reaching an agreement. I'm afraid he may be whistling in the wind .

The Council discussion was of course, all very polite, but beneath the good manners there are some very deep political divides.

*Blocking with a court order would be permitted even under a net neutralty law,eg for copyright enforcement. But this text has very broad exceptions, as the Dutch Minister stated, that go much further and this is the concern.


If you like this article, then you may also like my books:

A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms

The Copyright Enforcement Enigma Internet Politics and the Telecoms Package


This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, EU Council in sharp divide over net neutrality law in Iptegrity.com 27 November 2014. Commercial users - please contact me.

Tags: EU, Telecoms Regulation, European Commission, European Parliament, Connected Continent, net neutrality, Internet, Telecoms Package, law, commission, council, specialised services, traffic management, zero rated, prioristised Internet traffic.


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. 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.

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