EU outlines strict net neutrality rules

01/08/2016

The prospect of a two-speed internet, where some people pay for faster access to web services, looks less likely after the EU published strict new net neutrality rules.

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This week, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications published a 45-page report that essentially bans paid prioritisation of network traffic, and imposes strict requirements on any specialized services that ISPs want to offer.

Under the new rulings, ISPs "should treat all traffic equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender or receiver, content, application or service, or terminal equipment."

In the past, apps and other online services could, in theory, pay more to ensure their products ran smoothly. That appealed to network providers, who saw it as a way to boost profits.

But Berec says only a limited number of services will be able to ask for special treatment, and then only so long as it is not to the detriment of others.

Quality of service measures are allowed, according to the EU, but those measures have to be "transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate," as well as being targeted strictly towards technical service quality, and not commercial gain.

The new rules also include provisions that mandate accurate upload and download speeds in marketing materials, place strict limits on the use of zero-rating, and much more.

The term ‘net neutraility’ refers to the idea that all data should be treated equally, regardless of its content.

Think of the networks as being motorways. Instead of having slow lanes for lorries and fast lanes for cars, all vehicles can go the same speed.

For example, YouTube should not be able to get its video data streamed faster - and thus offer higher-quality clips that do not buffer - than Vimeo or other smaller sites, assuming everyone's computer servers can upload the material quickly in the first place.

The move was applauded by pro-net neutrality groups in the U.S. The New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute said in a statement that EU regulators made the right decision.

"BEREC was under intense pressure from ISPs to enact weak, loophole-ridden rules, but today's guidance shows that BEREC resisted that pressure," said Joshua Stager, the OTI's policy counsel.

What are the exceptions?

The guidelines refer to "specialised services".
Examples given include:

 high-quality voice calling on mobile networks

 real-time health services, such as video feeds for use in remote surgery

 live broadcasts over internet TV services

Regulators would have to check that giving preference to such services would not degrade others.

The concept of net neutrality is deeply unpopular with ISPs both in Europe and in the US, and a court battle over the 2015 decision by the FCC to start regulating such companies as telecommunications providers is ongoing.

Likewise, networks should not give preference to video call data over music downloads or web pages.

Critics had argued that giving faster internet traffic to one company over another was bad for business and had the potential to threaten innovation.


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