The European Union this week voted to adopt network neutrality rules similar to those adopted by the FCC, even using the same terminology, though it may be the other way around.
The proposal was first introduced by the European Council in 2013, promoted then as stronger than the FCC's (previous) rules because the EU rules proposed no blocking or throttling, language the FCC used in the 2014 Title II proposal (it had previously been "no degrading" rather than no "throttling").
The new EU rules prevent "blocking and throttling" of Internet traffic, as well as paid prioritization, although net neutrality activists have argued the EU's approach to paid prioritization has too broad a carveout for specialized services and opportunities to favor some traffic.
"The rules enshrine the principle of net neutrality into EU law: no blocking or throttling of online content, applications and services," the EU said following the vote by the European Parliament. "All traffic will be treated equally. This means, for example, that there can be no paid prioritization of traffic in the internet access service," it added.
The FCC's rules also allow for specialized services, like facilities-based VoIP, health monitoring, etc., which it does not treat as Internet access, but it also reserves the right to disallow specialized services that is providing the functional equivalent of an access service and makes clear it does not want folks trying to evade the rules to create fast lanes for things like video services. The EU rules do not have similar language, which makes some activists concerned they could be used for such video fast lanes.
The EU’s language about specialized services in an FAQ about the decision appears to justify that concern.
“The rules will ensure that the constantly growing quality of the open internet access service will not be hampered by the provision of services such as IPTV or telemedicine which share the same infrastructure. These innovative services may only be offered where and if sufficient capacity for internet access remains available.” EU pointed out that that last part about capacity means that specialized services cannot result in the slowing of other general Internet services.
In a letter in advance of the vote, companies including Etsy, Kickstarter, Netflix, Reddit, and Tumblr, pointed out what they said were major flaws in the proposal, including a carve-out for specialized services they say create Internet fast-lanes and allows zero-rating plans, in which carriers exclude some applications from a customer's data usage totals.
Also criticizing the EU plan were Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, Free Press, and the Future of Music Coalition, the same groups that fought for the Title II-based approach to net neutrality rules the FCC adopted.
“Apparently Silicon Valley interests are disappointed that the European Parliament did not ban the “specialized services” that Europe may need to create a European Digital Single Market to compete with Silicon Valley," said Scott Cleland, president, Precursor LLC, and chairman of NetCompetiton, which advocates for an open Internet free of government overregulation (NetCompetition is supported by ISPs including members of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and CTIA).
The EU also voted to end roaming charges by 2017--the net neutrality rules take effect now.
Both are part of a broader EU telecom law reform, with plans for better EU-level spectrum coordination.
"[This Week's] vote is the final result of intense efforts to put an end to roaming charges in the European Union and to safeguard the open internet," said European Commission VP Andrus Ansip.