Out-Law News 2 min. read

EU governments showing 'unacceptable disregard' for consumers' right to net neutrality, claims French campaign group

Governments across the EU have shown "unacceptable disregard" to consumers' wish to enjoy internet services based on the principle of 'net neutrality', digital rights campaigners in France have said.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) will deliver all content requested by customers equally, and where the speed and quality of content delivered to customers is not dictated by the price content producers are willing to pay ISPs for preferential treatment of their over the ISPs' network.

EU law makers are currently in final negotiations over the introduction of new net neutrality rules in the trading bloc. However, La Quadrature du Net said that national governments involved in those negotiations back reforms that would be "deeply prejudicial to the freedom of communication and innovation". It has called for the "reasonable proposals" of the European Parliament to be written into law instead.

"We urge the European Parliament not to yield to strong pressure from the member states and powerful industrial lobbies," La Quadrature du Net said. "We call on the European Commission to move in the direction of respect of citizens' rights and freedoms in the negotiation of this text and to echo the proposals of the European Parliament."

La Quadrature du Net said it is concerned that the Council of Ministers wants to remove explicit references within the net neutrality rules which would, if retained, outline that their part-purpose is to safeguard consumer rights and ensure "non-discriminatory treatment" of internet traffic. According to a leaked document that appears to show the Council's negotiating intentions (10-page / 69KB PDF) on the reforms, the Council wants the net neutrality rules to have a sole aim of ensuring "open internet access".

The group also raised concern at amendments in the document that would see the definition of 'net neutrality' omitted from the final regulation.

The Council's proposals, according to the leaked document, would place a general requirement on internet providers to "treat all traffic equally when providing internet access services", but it would give those providers freedom to implement a range of "reasonable" traffic management measures to control access to content. The blocking or throttling of content would be justified to "preserve the integrity and security of the network" and "prevent impending network congestion", among other limited exemptions allowed for under the plans.

However, La Quadrature du Net said the traffic management provisions "does not protect users from any measure infringing their rights", and would permit ISPs to engage in "deep packet inspection".

La Quadrature du Net said it is also opposed to Council proposals that would allow internet providers to agree deals with consumers in relation to "price, data volumes or speed" as it said this could undermine the principle of net neutrality.

It also criticised the omission of rules that MEPs had proposed. Those rules would allow ISPs to offer 'specialised services' at a higher quality, so long as these services are not supplied "to the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services" offered to other companies or service suppliers.

"This article enshrined the banning of discrimination between functionally equivalent services and applications," La Quadrature du Net said. "This was a key measure to avoid a discrimination of SMEs and to ensure fair competition within the EU even when telecom operators decide to provide access to offer online access through these specialised services."

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