If approved by EU member states, it will soon be illegal for telecommunications companies to block internet traffic or charge more for data-intensive content services.
Net neutrality is an important issue in an increasingly connected world, prompting debates as to whether the principle should be required by law. In the United States, there's really no set legal precedent for how net neutrality should be treated, although that may change following the FCC court ruling back in January. In the European Union, on the other hand, members of Parliament have voted to close loopholes in a Telecoms Package law that could have created a two-tier internet. The original version of the law included "specialized services" that included charging more for data-intensive content, blocking internet traffic, and even annoyances like mobile roaming charges.
"After months of negotiations, the European Parliament has today adopted my proposal to close the last remaining loopholes in the text, in order to enshrine net neutrality in European law," said Dutch Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake. "Today's vote creates safeguards to ensure that players without deep pockets, such as start-ups, hospitals or universities, cannot be pushed out of the market as a result of deals between Internet service providers and content providers to offer faster services at a higher price."
The new law still needs to be approved by EU member states, but digital rights groups are already embracing the changes. "Holding the open internet hostage in order to help a small number of companies would be dangerous and short-sighted," said European Digital Rights Executive Director Joe McNamee. "The freedom of the Internet must be protected."
Outside of the already mentioned changes, the new law allows for plain language mobile contracts, additional consumer protection rights, and coordination of frequency spectrum use. Specialized services are still allowed, but not in a way that limits the availability or quality of internet access services. That being said, the European Telecommunications Network Operators association warned that these changes could limit user choices in the long run. "The text approved today would introduce far-reaching restrictions on traffic management, which would make an efficient management of the network almost impossible, resulting in a lower quality internet for all," an ETNO statement read.