European Union Net Neutrality Vote Could Allow ISPs to Charge More for Better Service

Net neutrality may be taking a hit, but it's not as bad as it sounds

A new European telecom law that was approved recently will prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down web apps, which is great news. On the other hand, however, ISPs would be allowed to charge content providers for higher quality service, which is a threat to net neutrality.

The Industry Committee in the European Parliament has voted to approve this controversial plan that would allow ISPs to prioritize which services get more bandwidth.

The decision is part of a series of measures that seek to rewrite the way telecommunications companies work in the European Union. One of the much-acclaimed points on the list is banning mobile roaming costs by the end of next year.

While the measures that would damage net neutrality have already passed through the committee, the decision is not final. In fact, members of the parliament are calling for the Commission to lay down some guidelines for exceptional cases when companies would be allowed to apply such charges. This would, they believe, protect abusive behavior.

Since the entire package of laws is meant to protect net neutrality, the fact that this measure made its way into the deal is rather worrying. It now depends on exactly what rules the MEPs will set down that would allow ISPs to demand more money from content providers.

A good example for this situation can be found in the United States, where Netflix agreed to sign a deal with Comcast so it could stream videos faster and more smoothly after months of users complaining about bad speeds.

“Companies would still able to offer specialized services of higher quality, such as video on demand and business-critical data-intensive cloud applications, provided that this does not interfere with the Internet speeds promised to other customers. Measures to block or slow down the Internet would be allowed only in exceptional cases, e.g. where specifically ordered by a court,” reads the document pushed through the European Commission.

Basically, ISPs would need to reclassify some services in order to be allowed to prioritize their Internet speed. While telcos may already be wringing their hands with happiness that they’re about to get some more money, the guidelines may thwart their freedom to some extent.

“Digital tools and telecoms networks enable productivity and performance in every area of our lives. And now we are one step closer. This is about ensuring a dynamic, healthy, competitive telecoms sector, fit to face the future. It’s about arming every European business with the tools and networks they need to innovate and grow. And giving every European citizen the seamless connectivity they have come to demand – without unfair practices like blocked services or roaming charges,” said Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner who proposed the telecoms package in the first place.

The package of laws needs to get the final nod next month.

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