The principle of net neutrality will be protected by European Union law. All internet traffic will be treated equally, with some exceptions. Paid prioritisation will be banned, although service providers will also be able to offer some ‘specialised services’, such as television and video, at higher quality, so long as this is not at the expense of the quality of open internet access. The compromise agreement leaves a lot open to interpretation.
The European Union claims it will have the strongest and most comprehensive open internet rules in the world, complete with strong end-user rights to ensure that subscribers get what they pay for. The rules will come into force from 30 April 2016.
Mobile roaming will also become cheaper from April 2016. Operators will only be able to charge a maximum of 5 euro cents per minute of call or per minute of megabyte of data, excluding sales tax.
Roaming charges will cease to exist within the European Union from 15 June 2017. Consumers will pay the same price for calls, texts and mobile data wherever they are travelling in the European Union.
The original proposals, published almost two years ago, would have also prevented companies charging a premium for international calls within Europe, capping the cost of mobile calls within the European Union at 19 euro cents a minute.
The agreement on roaming and net neutrality was achieved following final negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council.
The measures will be part of a review of the European Union telecoms rules as part of plans for a digital single market.
Andrus Ansip, the Commission Vice-President for the digital single market, said: “Europeans have been calling and waiting for the end of roaming charges as well as for net neutrality rules. They have been heard.”
Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for the digital economy and society, welcomed what he called “pragmatic net neutrality rules”.
No blocking or throttling of online content, applications or services will be allowed. All traffic will be treated equally. There can be no paid prioritisation of traffic. However, there is provision for reasonable traffic management according to justified technical requirements, which must be independent of the origin or destination of the traffic.
The compromise means that broadband service providers will be able to offer favourable quality of service access to some television or video services. These services may only be offered where and if sufficient capacity for internet access remains available.
It is argued that this will not promote a two-tier internet, with fast and slow lanes, as paid prioritisation is not allowed.
The practice of zero rating will also be permitted. This is a commercial practice used by some internet access providers, especially mobile operators, not to count the data for particular applications or services against the monthly data limit of a user.
This, it is said, does not block competing content but regulators will have to ensure that the commercial practices benefit users and do not lead to a reduction in user choice.
The regulations will oblige member states to set rules on the penalties applicable to infringements of the net neutrality provisions, involving significant financial and administrative sanctions.
The net neutrality regulations are generally good news for those seeking to offer television or video services over the open internet in Europe. Ironically, they may be especially good news for global corporations like Google, Apple, Netflix, or Amazon, offering guaranteed access to an open market across the Europe Union.