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Yesterday's net neutrality announcement by the FCC was a Red Letter day for Internet freedom in the US. How will the European Union react ?

The United States telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, yesterday confirmed its policy direction in favour of net neutrality. It has ordered that broadband providers are to come under the common carriage regulation, which means they must neither prevent nor favour traffic, but take all on an equal basis. The FCC's message is simple and clear: no blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes. The rule applies equally to mobile and fixed network providers. Meanwhile, in the deep, non-enlightened corridors of Brussels, the EU is threatening measures that would embed exactly

the opposite of what the FCC has declared to be essential for democracy and for innovation.

The FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, said that no government should control access to a free and open Internet, but it is simply too important to be left without any public regulation. The Internet has replaced the phone and the post office, it has re-defined commerce, it has been a dynamo for innovation, and it is ultimate vehicle for freedom of expression. It is simply too important to allow broadband providers to set their own rules.

The FCC announcment means that broadband providers in the US will not be permitted to block access to content, applications and services. They will be forbidden to impair or degrade bandwidth connections. They will not be allowed to offer prioritised services or have favoured content providers. All of this will be subject to 'common sense exceptions' but this has to do with the structure of the US law, and in principle it means that the FCC will not have powers over tariffs.

Mr Wheeler was supported by impassioned speeches by two of the other Commissioners who argued that we cannot have a two-tier Internet that speeds the traffic of the privileged to the disadvantage of those without the means to pay. Citizens must be able to access whatever content they choose, without concern for who is gatekeeping.

An important message for Europe is that the FCC has put the mobile operators under the new rule, on the same basis as fixed networks. The FCC took this decision because mobile Internet access is now becoming as important as fixed, and arguably it is more important. It is not acceptable to have a second class mobile Internet, governed by gatekeepers, when for many people it is their primary access method.

In Europe, we are in danger of going the opposite way. At the precise moment when the US regulator has recognised the public interest importance of the Internet in all spheres of life, European legislators are blind to all but the industry, whose profit-hungry claws are scratching at their doors.

The EU Council of Ministers is currently drawing up proposals that purport to address the open Internet and net neutrality, but in fact regulate how the broadband providers can block (see Working towards a disconnected Continent - net neutrality gets the EU Council treatment). The Council's proposals lay out the rules for traffic management. They are concerned about anti-competitive blocking and distortion of competition between operators, but they pull down the shutters on freedom of expression.

The Council's proposals on net neutrality seek to protect broadband providers who are using unregulated content filtering, such as in the UK ( see EU net neutrality battle: what end-user requests traffic management? ) And they retain the ability for broadband providers to sell favours to content providers, a move that would squeeze out all but the very largest platforms. Data plans would be legitimatedthat zero-rate FaceBook but make it super-expensive to see content on smaller websites. The latest versions of the Council's draft texts, seen by Iptegrity, have embedded these concepts and mitigate against an open Internet.

Europe will have to fight its own regulatory battle over net neutrality. We do not have an FCC. We do have a small number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who understand the issue. It is they who will have to find a European resolution that will protect and preserve a communications system like no other, which all citizens rely on for both economic benefits and democratic free speech.

For my previous coverage of the net neutrality in the EU, and the Telecoms Regulation (Connected Continent) see all of my postings under the 'Net Neutrality' menu heading. They include EU telecoms rules - smokescreen lifts over telco specialised services and Permission to stream - how new EU telecoms rules violate net neutrality and EU Parliament steels its resolve on net neutrality

To understand the political context to the Telecoms regulation (Connected Continent) , see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the 'Telecoms Package' which discusses the 2009 Telecoms Package and the processing of it by the European Parliament.

If you are more interested in how the lobbying operates in the European Parliament, then you may also like my other book A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms


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, The FCC orders to protect net neutrality - how will Europe react? in Iptegrity.com, 27 February 2015. Commercial users - please contact me.


Tags: net neutrality, EU Telecoms Regulation, EU, FaceBook zero, Council of Ministers, European Commission, zero-rated, data plan, European Parliament, Connected Continent, Telecoms Package, telecoms reform package.


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. 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.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.