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MEPs seek to ensure 'technical necessity' of quality of service agreements for online content

New 'net neutrality' rules in the EU should prevent content providers and internet service providers (ISPs) from agreeing on quality of service levels to be delivered to customers beyond what is "technically necessary" for the content services to function, a committee of MEPs has said.

The European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee said the quality of service agreements should also not have the effect of impairing the quality of other "internet access services" offered by ISPs to their customers.

The proposals apply to 'specialised services agreements'. The LIBE committee has outlined a proposed definition for 'specialised services', which refers to any electronic communication service within a closed network where access is controlled and where that service is not advertised or used as an "internet access service" and is not "functionally identical" to services available over the public internet.

"Providers of content, applications and services and providers of electronic communications to the public should therefore be free to conclude specialised services agreements on defined levels of quality of service as long as such defined levels of quality characteristics are technically necessary for the functionality of the service and these agreements do not impair the quality of internet access services," a new opinion (26-page / 264KB PDF) published by the LIBE committee on the European Commission's proposed telecoms law reforms said.

Net neutrality is the principle that an ISP will deliver all content requested by a customer equally, not allowing content producers to have preferential access to subscribers. However, proposed new EU telecoms laws would allow ISPs and producers of content will be able to form agreements with one another over the quality of service to be delivered to consumers, subject to conditions.

The LIBE committee has now sought to ensure that the technical necessity of these quality of service agreements is enshrined into the law. In addition, the committee has also outlined its view on how the term 'net neutrality' should be defined.

"'Net neutrality' means the principle that all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of its sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application," the LIBE proposals said.

It said that regulators should "establish clear and comprehensible notification and redress mechanisms" for consumers to utilise where they have been "subjected to discrimination, restriction or interference of online content, services or applications".

ISPs should not generally be able to offer services to consumers where there is discrimination over the speed or volume of content provided unless they have obtained those individuals' free, explicit and informed consent, LIBE said.

The committee said that the exception to this rule should be where ISPs need to undertaken "reasonable traffic management measures" that results in content requested by users being blocked, slowed down or discriminated against.

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