EU net neutrality seen in peril from draft law

A digital advocacy group has accused Europe’s Digital Agenda Commissioner of caving in to pressure from telcos and abandoning her promise to protect net neutrality.

In a leaked draft of Commissioner Neelie Kroes’ proposals for new telecoms rules that are due to be formally presented next week, “net neutrality” was struck out in the one place where it had been mentioned previously. Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesman for  La Quadrature du Net (QdN), said this shows that Kroes has backed down under pressure from telecommunications companies’ lobbying.

Most of the 93-page leaked document has been completely re-written from previous drafts and now includes an article stating “any operator shall have the right to provide a European Assured Service Quality (ASQ) connectivity product.”

“End-users shall be free to agree to enter into agreements on data volumes, and speeds and general quality characteristics with providers of electronic communications,” continues article 19. According to Zimmermann, this is the “smoking gun” and ASQ is simply another way of saying traffic prioritization.

“The Commission would be giving telecoms freedom to enter into business deals with big content providers such as Google or Facebook to prioritize their data flows over the Internet. Such a corporate power-grab would relegate the rest of citizens and new-entrant innovators to a slower Internet with disastrous effects for freedom and innovation online,” said Zimmermann.

But on Twitter on Tuesday, Kroes’ spokesman Ryan Heath dismissed such ideas as “conspiracy theories.” He added in a blog post that it was a myth that the Commission is encouraging deals between operators and content providers. Such deals are already possible today, he said. “The Commission has no capacity or interest to interfere in voluntary commercial arrangements such as this,” he said. “More generally I don’t see how it can be claimed that Neelie Kroes is only interested in the short-term interests of a few companies or the end of openness online. She is someone who wants to end roaming premiums, end blocking and throttling of content and extend fast internet to everyone.”

The full and final text is due to be presented on Sept. 11 and will then go to the European Parliament for further assessment. Only when the text has been approved by Parliament and the member states of the E.U. can it enter into law. QdN is calling on lawmakers to amend the text to explicitly ban prioritization of Internet services.

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