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Net Neutrality

Anyone involved in the industry today will know of the powerful technical capabilities now in the hands of those telecoms companies. Deep packet inspection and traffic management systems make blocking, prioritisation, discrimination of different types of traffic not only possible, but happening. The neutrality on which the Internet is based - and which is indeed essential for the proper functioning of a communications network - is under threat, and our policy-makers are spineless in the face of large commercial interests.

When one writes about this subject of net neutrality, it is impossible to ignore these factors. Indeed, I believe that policy writing which fails to tackle them, would lack credibiility. This section will therefore discuss the threats to the Internet posed by these counter-neutral technologies, and their policy implications. And it will take a critical look at the politicking of the people in power in the EU.

Until 2009, the European Union did not have a policy on net neutrality. The reason why net neutrality  is now on the EU policy agenda, is a direct result of events that occurred during  the 2009 Telecoms Package process. Pressure  from citizens groups forced the issue in the European Parliament. The rapporteur, Catherine Trautmann played a tight hand  with the other EU institutions, which resulted in an instruction to the Commission. 

The outcome was a public seminar on net neutrality and  consultation process, which invited responses from citizen stakeholders as well as industry. So far, so good. However, the process was   criticised as a cosmetic exercise, and the Commission's response as a weak sop to the dominant telecoms  industry lobbyists.

Since then the policy has moved on, and in 2014  the European Parliament adopted a series of provisions that sought to enshrine net neutrality into EU law. AS a consequence of those provisions,  a new political battle within the EU has begun. It won't end without bitter recriminations and some digital blood letting. This political battle that looks set to be the determining one fo rthis issue, and there are  many economic factors at stake.

If you are interested in net neutrality and how it has been addressed by EU and US policy, you may like my book The Closing of the Net  .

If you are interested in copyright policy, you may like my previous books A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms and The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the ‘Telecoms Package’

'No' to content gatekeeping by ISPs.   A higher privacy barrier for copyright policing.

Two pieces of good news for the Internet have emerged from the EU in the past 7 days. They arise out of two entirely separate processes, but both indicate a mood of distaste for corporate control of the Internet. Last week, the European Parliament voted in favour of a net neutrality law; this week the European court of Justice ruled that a law on the collection of telephone and Internet metadata is invalid.

Read more: Net neutrality & data retention – Europe pushes back against a corporatised Internet

The duel between the telecoms industry and  European citizens’ advocates  over net neutrality as the European Parliament prepares for a decisive  vote.  At stake is the very principle of net neutrality – will Europe be brave anough to enshrine it in law?

 At stake is the entire future of the Internet in Europe.  The telecoms operators have a plan that will totally disrupt the Internet as it stands, enabling them to charge both users and content owners provision of content services. Such charging would position the telecoms operators as the gatekeepers for content, and erode the public service nature of the Internet   – if they are allowed to get away with it. The outcome of tomorrow’s vote will be a determinant of what they can, or cannot, do.

Read more: EU Parliament net neutrality battle comes to a head

Does the Internet belong to corporations or to citizens? Who runs it? Who owns it? Who decides what’s on it? Is it going to turn into a TV with a Facebook extra? All of this is at stake. It’s a vote being forced by the telecoms industry, to spike any chance of Europe getting a net neutrality law after the Euro-elections.  If this vote is lost, what can be done to save the Internet?

On Tuesday morning, the European Parliament will take a strategic vote for the future of the Internet as we know it. The law that is being voted on is the propsed new Telecoms REgulation, also known as the Regulation on a European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent. Inside the Parliament, the net neutrality issue is clearly the subject of a massive political fight, with over

Read more: Will the EU Parliament save the open Internet? Crucial vote on Tuesday

A back-room political compromise on net neutrality  that is  being quiety negotiated in the European Parliament  is currently sitting on a knife-edge. It is the only element of the Telecoms Regulation (Connected Continent) that has not been agreed between the different party groups (as previously predicted by Iptegrity).  The Committee vote is on Monday.

 The big  stakes are  whether  a telco-led agenda  for  priorised Internet services  will be permitted. This agenda will also have serious implications for ordinary telephone services and how television is delivered. In addition, there are issues surrounding Neelie Kroes flagship anti-discrimination clause.

***Update Tuesday 25 February - the vote has been postponed until 10  March.***

Read more: The EU's net neutrality compromise - what does it really mean?

 When even the experts are struggling, it  should set off alarm bells. The net neutrality issue is hotting up in the European Parliament, but who really understands what is happening?  It has been under scrutiny from the various committees and is now with the Industry committee for a vote in a couple of weeks time. The signs are that  the rapporteur, Pilar Del Castillo,  is being challenged, but there are concerning indications that MEPs will give in to amendments that put at risk not only  the structure of the Internet, but of the whole telecoms market.

Read more: Net neutrality gets final scrutiny in EU Parliament - should we be alarmed?

An incontinent proposal?

 The European Parliament is set to carve out vast swathes of the proposed Telecoms  Regulation  (Connected Continent). As it currently looks, Neelie Kroes once-sweeping  proposal to re-structure Europe’s telecoms markets will be reduced to not much more than 2 policy areas – spectrum and net neutrality. And now the Committee of the Regions has waded in with a proposal to post-pone the work on net neutrality too.

Read more: The Connected Continent carve-out: what will be left in new telecoms rules?

It’s now becoming clear that the core issue for the Telecoms Regulation is  the fight over the open Internet.  In the most recent meeting of the European Parliament’s Industry committee,  Europe’s telcos finally put their cards on the cable. Their hand includes a neat little torpedo that blows apart any claims by the European Commission that net neutrality will be protected.

Read more: EU telecoms rules - smokescreen lifts over telco specialised services

As the lead committee on the Telecoms Regulation, ITRE, will be sitting down to discuss it this afternoon, this posting postulates on the appropriate balance of providers and citizens, inspired by a couple of recent Canadian studies.

 How far will Commissioner Kroes’ new telecoms proposals rig the market in favour of large providers? That is a key policy  issue at stake in the Telecoms Regulation (also known as Connected Continent proposals). With the Regulation  now in the European Parliament,  MEPs have a chance to debate and amend it.  A related question, therefore, is how will they tackle the demands of the big providers and what kind of balance will they provide against citizens rights.

Read more: New EU telecoms rules - the shape of things to come

As the European Parliament  begins work on the new Telecoms Regulation, there are  early warning signals that the issue of net neutrality will be heavily fought over. It has emerged  that the two big committees with responsibility for telecoms both wanted to take it on. There was a tussle between the two, and in the end, it was subject to higher level decision that gave net neutrality to the Industry committee. Moreover,  it looks as though net neutrality will be  one key element that 

Read more: Net neutrality: a political football as telecoms rules begin legislative journey

Not quite murder on the dance floor, but murder in the committees, according to one observer.

 It looks like the European Parliament could take a knife to parts of the proposed Telecoms Regulation (Connected Continent)  if not its entirety. Iptegrity has followed the discussion in two committees  this week – IMCO and ITRE   - and  it was abundantly  clear that the Parliament does not like this proposal. Not quite murder perhaps, but elements of the proposal could be killed off.

Read more: EU Parliament threat to knife new telecoms rules

The European Commission rushed a stakeholder consultation on the new EU Telecoms Regulation (Telecoms Package)  and failed even by its own standards to conduct a thorough impact assessment. These damning comments come, not from an activist group, but from the European Parliament in a formal analysis that will be discussed in Committee meetings this week.  The document, seen by Iptegrity, also states that the Commission failed to make changes to the document, despite being asked three times to so before issuing it.

Read more: New telecoms rules: EU Commission had no time to consult

In the controversy over the new Telecoms Regulation, the European Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, insists that she has protected net neutrality, but an analysis of the text of her proposed law suggests that she is being somewhat disingenuous. The text does indeed contain words to the effect that ISPs should not discriminate, but it falls a long way short of the kind of non-discrimination rule that would ensure they won’t.

Instead, the overall impact of the proposed law would mitigate in favour of those ISPs who want to charge for content delivery. In a nutshell, no roadblocks are

Read more: Permission to stream – how new EU telecoms rules violate net neutrality

Should new legislation be released to the media before it goes to the European Parliament?

 The new Telecoms Regulation is due to be presented to the European Parliament tomorrow. Butthe entire draft with all of its accompanying documents was sent  to the media today. Even as I write this,  it is circulating on the Internet. Not a leak. The  official final draft. In my opinion, this is a breach of protocol. Surely, the Parliament should be told first, especially when the measures in the Regulation are so controversial?

Read more: EU Commission PR blunder over net neutrality



States v the 'Net? 

Read The Closing of the Net, by me, Monica Horten.

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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

Don't miss Iptegrity!  RSS/ Bookmark is the website of Dr Monica Horten. She is a policy analyst specialising in Internet governance & European policy, including platform accountability. She is a published author & Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on  Internet Freedom. She has worked on CoE, EU and UNDP funded projects in eastern Europe and the Caucasus. In a voluntary capacity, she has led UK citizen delegations to the European Parliament. She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012.

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