EU’s guidelines on net neutrality see the light although grey areas do remain

Günther Oettinger___2016

Participation of Günther Oettinger, Member of the EC, in the round table on ‘5G manifesto for timely deployment of 5G in Europe’. © European Union , 2016 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Lieven Creemers.

Last week will not only be remembered for the world-record fine imposed to Apple by the European Union and the Hutchison-VimpelCom merger in Italy. There was also space for some important news on net neutrality.

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), which is the regulating agency of the telecommunication market in the EU, published last week guidelines on how the EU will implement net neutrality rules that were adopted last year. The document, which clarifies how internet service providers should treat the data they handle in the EU, represents the final stage in the three-year process of adopting net neutrality legislation in the bloc.

Net Neutrality principle

Net neutrality is the principle that all data should be treated equally, and that Internet service providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content without blocking or slowing down specific websites on purpose, regardless of the source. In a few words, net neutrality’s mission should be preventing broadband operators from favoring specific sources of content such as commercial partners.

BEREC only admitted a small range of exceptions, which refer to “specialised services” that are optimised for specific content, such as high-quality voice calling on mobile networks, real-time health services (such as video feeds for use in remote surgery) and live broadcasts over internet TV services. “Regulators would have to check that giving preference to such services would not degrade others”, BEREC specified in its statement.

Background

The new net neutrality rules were adopted in the EU last year and took effect in April this year, and after then BEREC launched a six-week public consultation on the draft Guidelines, closing on 18 July. “The number of 481,547 contributions received before the deadline was unprecedented for a BEREC consultation, and coming from diverse categories of respondents: civil society, public institutions and independent experts, ISPs, content and application providers and other industry stakeholders”, as it was declared by BEREC in its official statement. The Guidelines finally saw the light last week, and were published together with an accompanying consultation report, summarising stakeholders’ views submitted and how BEREC took them into account.

The net welcomes the news

The publication has been welcomed by digital rights experts, and digital rights groups are describing the document as a victory for the free and open internet. “Europe is now a global standard-setter in the defence of the open, competitive and neutral internet. We congratulate BEREC on its diligent work, its expertise and its refusal to bend to the unreasonable pressure placed on it by the big telecoms lobby,” said Joe McNamee, executive director of the European Digital Rights (EDRi) in a statement, as reported by the BBC and other prominent news outlets last week.

Commissioner Günther Oettinger, in charge of Digital Economy and Society, called BEREC’s Guidelines as “a reference for every national regulator having to decide whether a company or a public service provider violates the net neutrality rules and whether to start proceedings against them”. “Ensuring an open Internet is a fundamental principle to promote and protect the Internet that we want”, he said. “Today, we made a further step in the right direction”, he added.

Loopholes risk

Something many experts were afraid of was that the regulations that were first adopted last year contained several holes, or “loopholes”, including a provision that would have allowed providers to offer an internet fast lane to paying sites. Some campaigners and groups indeed claimed that the 2015 document also contained allowances for ISPs to predict “periods of peak demand” and so introduced some traffic management measures that would have eventually led to lowering the effects of net neutrality. The European consumer organisation BEUC too warned that the exceptions would have undermined the overall achievement at those times.

Grey areas

It seems that now, under the Guidelines, telecom firms will only be allowed to slow down internet traffic to fix bad quality, and not towards any kind of commercial return. However, the new regulations received also several critics and there are many people that are convinced that the Guidelines still leaves many questions untouched. Many have indeed raised the point that Internet service providers that restrict online access to pornography or adult content could be breaking the new EU guidelines on net neutrality. The issue is particularly serious in the UK, as described by the Guardian, where companies such as ISPs Sky, BT and TalkTalk already block access to adult sites following pressure from the government, as do mobile operators such as O2.

Ad blocking at risk

And if blocking porn falls into a grey area ad blocking may be at risk too, as the clause contained in BEREC’s “net neutrality” guidelines indeed states that telecoms companies “should not block, slow down, alter, restrict, interfere with, degrade or discriminate advertising when providing an IAS (internet access service)”. This way all software that blocks adverts from appearing on smartphones may find themselves breaking the law.

No regulation at network level

The Guidelines by BEREC actually state that while consumers should be allowed to install “ad blocking” apps on their phones, network-level blocking should be prohibited. A guidance document, contained in a report issued alongside last week’s updated guidelines reads: “BEREC notes that the regulation does not consider that end-user consent enables ISPs to engage in such practices at the network level”. “End-users may independently choose to apply equivalent features, for example via their terminal equipment or more generally on the applications running at the terminal equipment, but BEREC considers that management of such features at the network level would not be consistent with the regulation”, the guidance adds.

The Guardian last week reported that Frode Sorensen, co-chair of the BEREC Expert Working Group on net neutrality refused to comment on specific cases or countries, but said the updated guidance made it clear that it had found no legal basis for using customer choice to “justify blocking any content without national legislation” or for reasons of “traffic management or security”.

End-user blocking

And if there were any doubts on how popular end-user ad blocking already is in the world, a report published earlier this year by PageFair will help get the bigger picture. The report shows that a least 419 million people (22% of the world’s 1.9bn smartphone users) are blocking ads on the mobile web. In Europe and North America, as of March 2016, there were 14 million monthly active users of mobile adblocking browsers.

The report also shows that, as of March 2016 an estimated 408 million people are actively using mobile adblocking browsers, like for instance a mobile browser that blocks ads by default. These figures are the clear indicators of how adblocking will likely become the most hotly discussed topic in the digital media industry, and surely the new Guidelines on net neutrality rules in the EU will inescapably be the hottest point of discussion.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Eurozone: Negative statistics bring deflation and recession closer

Bayer’s cross at night (Copyright: Bayer AG)

The EU clears Bayer-Monsanto merger amid wide competition and environmental concerns

‘Negative forces’ at work in DR Congo threaten ‘largely peaceful’ relations across Great Lakes region, says outgoing UN envoy

All sides in Yemen conflict could be guilty of war crimes, UN experts find

EU and China discuss economic and trade relations at the 7th High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue

5 factors driving the Chinese lawtech boom

5 ways to bridge the global health worker shortage

Service and Sacrifice: Ugandan ‘Blue Helmets’ support UN efforts to bring peace to Somalia

100 years on, UN labour agency mission focussed on growing inequality, says Director-General

Groundbreaking cancer-fighting drugs now included in updated UN list of essential medicines

Parliament makes it easier to organise a European Citizens’ Initiative

Large parts of the world are growing more fragile. Here are 5 steps to reverse course

Finnish Prime Minister calls for a more united EU of concrete actions

A new way to teach active citizenship to students?

The four top Americans who flew to Europe perplexed things about Trump’s intentions

This is what the gender pay gap looks like in eight countries

MWC 2016 LIVE: Xiaomi looks to revive growth with flagships

Mobile 360 Africa 11-13 July 2017

‘Virginity testing’: a human rights violation, with no scientific basis – UN

Latest tragedy in the Mediterranean claims over 100 lives – UN refugee agency

Preserving biodiversity vital to reverse tide of climate change, UN stresses on International Day

Korea should adapt its migration programmes to ensure continued success in the face of expected challenges

EU gas market: new rules agreed will also cover gas pipelines entering the EU

Afghanistan: Bring ‘architects’ of latest ‘appalling’ suicide bombing to justice, says deputy UN mission chief

The European Parliament x-rays the troika’s doings

Hiring more female leaders is good for profits. Here’s the evidence

A Valentine’s Special: we can never overdose on love

Russia accepts what the EU has to offer and settles to negotiate with Ukraine

This Netherlands football stadium creates its own energy and stores it in electric car batteries

We probably should go back to the therapy in Primary Healthcare

Global Compact on Refugees: How is this different from the migrants’ pact and how will it help?

European Commission: Does Apple, Starbucks and Fiat really pay their taxes?

Corporate tax remains a key revenue source, despite falling rates worldwide

The megatrend that will shape our working future

Why rich countries are seeing more poverty

So, what is your favourite Sustainable Development Goal?

GradList Launched At TheNextWeb 2014

Here’s why leaders need to care about mental health

Haiti stands ‘at the crossroads’ between peacekeeping, development – Bachelet urges strengthened ‘human rights protection’

Joint UN, OSCE engagement can address crisis in Ukraine, other ‘dark spots of conflict’ in Europe

Basel III rules relaxed: Banks got it all but become more prone to crisis

Two major EU projects falter; the Schengen Agreement now freezes and Eurozone fails to resolve the Greek enigma

What has a year of experiments taught us about basic income?

Who can compel Wallonia to unlock CETA, the EU-Canada free trade pack?

Eurozone: GDP development heads to naught; the expensive euro serves only Germany

Europe, US and Russia haggle over Ukraine’s convulsing body; Russians and Americans press on for an all out civil war

Anti-vaccination movement affecting youth in Europe

Chatterbox Rome Declaration cannot save the EU; Germany has to pay more to do that

Turkey: MEPs cut support by €70m due to no improvement in respect for EU values

Innovating together: connectivity that matters

Future of EU farming: MEPs push for modern common policy with fair funding

France is about to start giving free breakfasts to disadvantaged schoolchildren

Human Rights Council election: 5 things you need to know about it

Why Eurozone needs a bit more inflation

Children in crisis-torn eastern Ukraine ‘too terrified to learn’ amid spike in attacks on schools

US and Mexico child deportations drive extreme violence and trauma: UNICEF

The Commission unsuccessfully pretends to want curbing of tax evasion

Millennials (and Gen X) – Here are the steps you should take to secure your financial future

New Disability Inclusion Strategy is ‘transformative change we need’, says Guterres

Nuclear weapons in Lithuania: defence against Russia or target for terrorists?

More Stings?

Comments

  1. Admiring the time and energy you put into your weblog and in depth info you offer. It’s excellent to come across a blog every once in a even though that isn’t the same old rehashed material. Fantastic read! I’ve bookmarked your website and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

Trackbacks

  1. […] EDRi: The fight against hate speech undermines the fundamental rights of citizens (Krapuul) 12/09 EU’s guidelines on net neutrality see the light although grey areas do remain (The European Sting) 13/09 EU-Canada Airline Data Pact Violates Privacy:Adviser (Bloomberg BNA) […]

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s