Yesterday (27/10/2015), Labour MEPS voted in favour of net neutrality, and support the introduction of the first EU-wide rules on this issue. Guaranteeing net neutrality across Europe and around the world is crucial for freedom of expression, digital social inclusion, and equitable empowerment of citizens in the 21st century. Without it we risk having an unequal and unfree internet where grassroots citizens' voices and access could potentially be throttled.
What the Parliament voted on October 27th is the agreement reached with the Council on the Telecom Single Market Regulation (TSM). The agreement is the end of a long battle that our Socialists and Democrats in the Parliament started many years ago to end EU roaming charges, to break down artificial borders for mobile communications inside the EU and to guarantee the principle of net neutrality by ensuring a strong open internet with non-discriminatory traffic, transparency and clear end-users rights.
Crucially, the text of the law was agreed between the European Parliament and national governments in the Council of Ministers, after the first round of votes. Now, if the Parliament had made any amendments to the text in the plenary session, the entire text of the regulation agreed between the Parliament and Council would have been dropped, and we would have lost our significant achievements on net neutrality. That is why we voted for the text as it stood.
While net neutrality is not explicitly defined in the Regulation, the principles underlying it are guaranteed in article 3 of the Regulation.
Article 3 of the TSM Regulation states:
End-users shall have the right to access and distribute information and content, use and provide applications and services and use terminal equipment of their choice, irrespective of the end-user’s or provider’s location or the location, origin or destination of the service, information or content, via their internet access service.
This article will ensure that, for the first time, the net neutrality principle will be enshrined into 28 national legal systems and will oblige internet service providers across Europe to treat all internet traffic equally without discrimination, restriction or interference and irrespective of the sender and receiver, the content, the applications or services used.
Until now, there have been no binding pan-European rules on net neutrality. Only two EU countries (Netherlands and Slovenia) have adopted national laws on net neutrality. With this new EU law, all European countries will have to incorporate rules on this. Finally, the freedom and the right of European citizens to access or distribute internet content will no longer depend on country rules in which they live.
This Telecom Regulation will ensure that internet service providers cannot give paying customers a better service based on price. Less lucrative traffic will need to be treated equally and paid prioritisation will be banned.
The provisions also allow for specialised services to have priority internet access on the condition that they do not harm the open Internet access. Such services can include healthcare services like tele-surgery or remote surgery where a doctor can perform surgery on a patient even though they are not physically in the same location but can advise another doctor via an internet connection.
As a Member of the European Parliament's Culture and Education Committee, which deals with European citizenship, and as a board member of the European Internet Forum, which brings together MEPs and civil society on digital issues, I have taken a particular interest in internet freedoms. In November, I'll be representing the European Parliament in a delegation to the Internet Governance Forum, the chief international forum for discussion and decision making on the internet. I will be standing up for the importance of net neutrality there too.
Along with my fellow MEPs, I will continue to support clear and binding rules on net neutrality and will be happy to report back to my constituents on how things progress. Please check regularly my website and follow me on Twitter to keep up-to-date.