Out-Law News 1 min. read

New EU net neutrality rules and reforms to mobile roaming charges move closer following vote

New 'net neutrality' rules will come into force in the EU next year after they were backed by the European Parliament in a vote on Tuesday.

MEPs approved the proposals despite criticisms of the plans by some technology companies and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who referred to the net neutrality regulations the MEPs were voting on as being "weak and confusing" and a risk to "innovation, free speech and privacy".

Sir Tim, along with companies such as Netflix, Vimeo and Reddit, had called on the European Parliament to adopt amendments drawn up by some MEPs. However, the amendments were rejected by the Parliament in their vote.

In their joint letter (3-page / 95KB PDF), the companies had warned in particular that the net neutrality proposals would create internet "fast lanes" where companies who could afford it could pay internet service providers (ISPs) to deliver their content to internet users more efficiently.

Net neutrality is the principle that 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 content as it passes over the ISPs' network.

The new EU net neutrality rules, backed by MEPs, lay out conditions on when ISPs could block or throttle the delivery of content requested by users of their network. The rules prohibit "paid prioritisation" of content delivery online, although ISPs will be able to agree deals to deliver services of enhanced speed and quality with content providers in some cases, provided that it has no impact on "the open internet".

The net neutrality regime will take effect from 30 April 2016, although existing national laws or self-regulatory frameworks which do not accord with the new laws can continue to be operated until the end of 2016 if EU countries notify the European Commission of their intention for this to happen before 30 April next year.

The net neutrality proposals are part of a package of regulations that were approved by the European Parliament. The other aspect to the reforms are changes to rules governing roaming charges, the fees applied to the use of mobile data services by consumers when abroad.

Under the new rules, roaming charges will be capped at levels lower than can be applied at the moment from 30 April 2016, with roaming charges abolished in their entirety from 15 June 2017, subject to exceptions. One of those exceptions means that mobile network operators will be able to charge consumers for roaming that exceeds a "fair use" cap on the use of mobile data services abroad. The European Commission is responsible for outlining specific rules on the 'fair use' cap.

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