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Will the Internet's future be decided by politics and not by principle?

The European Parliament will take a crucial vote on net neutrality in a couple of hours' time. From the debate this morning, the political undertones of this vote are coming out. What is clear is that the Parliament allowed itself to be pressured by the Council of Ministers. That is not good for European democracy. Nor is it good for the Internet.

The European Parliament is voting on a text that was drafted by the Council of Ministers. MEPs have had little say in it. The law was drafted by the Council about this time last year along quite different lines from what had previously been adopted by the Parliament in March 2014. (See Net neutrality or zero rating? Tomorrow's EU vote will decide )

There were then the so-called trilogue discussions - Parliament, Commission and Council - last Spring, resulting in an agreement on 6 July.

The immediate point here is that the trilogues were led by the Council all along. It is the Council's text that is being put to the Parliament. It is obvious from reading the various drafts that the trilogue agreement began with the Council's text and not with the Parliament's.

The Council text begins from the premise of regulating traffic management. It does not acknowledge 'net neutrality' and never did.

The shame of it is that the Parliament's rapporteur, Pilar del Castillo, did not stand up for the Parliament's position. She had opportunities to do so, and would have been in a very strong position with a democratic mandate behind her.

The text that she is now putting before the Parliament is evidence that she did not do so. It fails to define net neutrality or even mention it.

The European Parliament is the only democratically accountable EU institution and if it wants to be taken seriously it should stand up for its own decisions.

Leading experts such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee warn that the current text could not only open the door to zero-rating of content, but it has other loopholes could risk the emergence of fast lanes and encrypted traffic being throttled - this would be despite that apparent intentions of the legislators to prohibit such behaviour.

In fact, a major problem with this law is that it is not clear what it means and the intentions of the drafters are ambiguous. Amendments have been tabled that clearly enshrine the principle of net neutrality. These net neutrality amendments would make it absolutely plain to operators and regulators what is and is not permitted.

They are Amendments 8=19, and 9-20. On the voting list they are Article 2, 2, after point 1 and Article 2, 2, after point 2.

"net neutrality" means the principle according to which all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application;

'internet access service' means a publicly available electronic communications service that provides access to the internet in accordance to the principle of net neutrality, and thereby connectivity to virtually all end points of the internet, irrespective of the network technology and terminal equipment used.

There is also some scaremongering that if it is not agreed today they will delay the law. This is false. A third reading is not unusual.

It could be a very tense vote - or the Parliament may simply give in to political bullying.


Save the Internet.eu

More analysis at EDRi

Barbara van Schewick

If you like this article then you might like myforthcoming new book The Closing of the Net - click here for more info.

You may also like my current books The Copyright Enforcement Enigma: Internet politics and the Telecoms Package ( discussion of the 2009 Telecoms Package and copyright) and A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms on copyright industry lobbying.


This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, 2015, EU net neutrality - how political is this decision? in Iptegrity.com, 27 October 2015 . Commercial users - please contact me.


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

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