We don’t often take public political views at Toshl, but internet neutrality is a very important one, one that deserves our attention. The future free development of the internet depends on it.
The European Parliament will tomorrow (3rd of April) vote on an interesting piece of legislation. It’s a regulation, for all of you who aren’t EU-buffs, that means it’s directly applicable EU legislation. It’s directly applied in all member countries and is hierarchically above the national legislation. It’s entitled Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent – COM(2013) 627.
We know, quite a mouthful. Because it’s a regulation it will be in force everywhere in the EU. It goes a long way toward establishing a single EU communications market, synchronising spectrum auctions, improving consumer rights for the most part… Simply put, if this goes well, there will be pan-European internet operators (mobile and stationary) and you can forget about the roaming charges completely, since it will be all one market. This means better services and content across The European Union and great opportunities for companies, organisations and individuals to make our lives easier.
BUT! There is a caveat, the proposed regulation also contains some very harmful provisions when dealing with internet neutrality. It doesn’t guarantee internet neutrality, in fact, it establishes the right of communications companies to set up special service agreements, which are poorly defined and limited and could lead into the negation of internet neutrality. In practice, that could mean that content providers (think of any website, internet content, tool, app etc.) could be forced to pay extra for preferred access on the network, smaller latencies etc. This would in turn make it harder for smaller entrants to the field to compete as only large players would be able to afford such fees and skew the playing field. It would lessen competition and we would no longer have a longer playing field. In the longer term it could also have effects on freedom of expression if this results in a tiered internet, where content providers need to pay the telcos for decent access and operators are the ones who choose which services they prefer, instead of consumers.
These kind of things are already starting to happen in the United States, where the FCC decided not to enforce internet neutrality. Just see what’s beginning to happen with Comcast and Netlfix. These are only the first steps. It’s likely to get much worse. It can mean higher prices for consumers, less choice and more difficult entry for new entrants to the market. Disrupting old giants could become much harder for startups.
Slovenia, the home country of the Toshl team, already has internet neutrality enshrined into law. It’s the 203. article of Zakon o elektronskih komunikacijah (ZEKom-1 – Law on electronic communications). In that respect we have one of the most advanced legislations in the world as only The Netherlands and Chile guarantee internet neutrality to this extent.
Let’s ensure we don’t fall to the lowest common denominator and ensure that internet neutrality will become part of EU legislation as well.
They have also prepared email you can send to Members of Parliament or call them, to insure that net neutrality will become law. The members of ALDE, S&D, Greens and GUE/NGL have also prepared an amendment which includes much better guarantees of internet neutrality and stricter definitions and framing of specialised services that exist on the networks.
Keep in mind these is the first reading in the European parliament, to be followed by approval of Member States in the European Council and another round of voting after, depending on the amendments proposed. There is much to be done if the final text will become something that will be to the true benefit of the European Union, not just partial interest of electronic communications operators. The game is afoot.