Dutch Net Neutrality to Become Reality After Senate Approves Law

The Netherlands is the first country in Europe to adopt a net neutrality law, and the second country in the world, after Chile. The Dutch Senate adopted the net neutrality provisions in a new Telecom Law approved on Tuesday evening.

The changes to the law were approved unanimously, according to the Senate website. The net neutrality law will ensure that access to the Internet is neutral and it is forbidden to filter the Internet.

The law aims to prevent telecom providers from blocking or throttling services such as Skype or WhatsApp, an Internet SMS service. Internet providers will also be prohibited from making prices for their Internet services dependent on the services used by the subscriber. ISPs may throttle traffic to prevent congestion or protect the network -- but only if they treat all traffic of the same type equally -- and they may not block traffic unless it is necessary in order to protect the integrity and security of the network or users' terminals.

There is one notable exception which allows Internet users to request an ISP to filter their Internet traffic by blocking certain services and applications based on ideological grounds, according to the approved changes in the law.

The religious exception clause was added to the proposed law last year when the Dutch Labor Party accidentally voted in favor of an amendment proposed by the Reformed Political Party (SGP), said Senator Han Noten of the Labor Party (PvdA).

Although the clause is intended to allow filtering at the request of the customer, many Dutch politicians see it as opening the door to Internet censorship, and want to see it removed.

After the voting mishap in the parliament it was decided that the mistake would be repaired by adding a new amendment that aims to nullify the religious exception clause to another, totally unrelated law concerning traffic regulation, Noten said. The Senate is set to vote on the traffic law and thus on the so-called "repair amendment" on May 15. Noten expects the traffic law to pass, and thus the filtering exception not to become law.

The Christian Union (CU) wants to maintain a religious filtering exception, though, and filed a motion in the Senate on Tuesday, asking the government to explore the possibilities for religious and ideological Internet filtering by providers on explicit request of the subscriber. The Senate will vote on this motion on May 15.

Maxime Verhagen, the outgoing Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation already said that he was willing to explore these options, Noten said. However, adding a new exception to the net neutrality rules can probably only happen if the law is changed again, he added. And even if the cabinet finds a way to achieve a religious exception without changing the law "this will certainly not happen before next week's vote," Noten added.

Dutch digital rights movement Bits of Freedom hailed the law as "crucial legislation to safeguard an open and secure Internet." The organization is not concerned about the adopted religious exception clause, calling it a "technical error" that it expects will be fixed on May 15.

Bits of Freedom also welcomed other changes in the telecom law, including an anti-wiretapping provision that restricts providers from using network management techniques such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), and a clause that prevents ISPs from disconnecting customers other than for failure to pay, for fraud, or in response to a court order.

Not everybody thinks the Dutch net neutrality law is a good idea. Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, voiced her doubts about the Dutch plans in a speech last year. "I regret very much that The Netherlands seems to be moving unilaterally on this issue," she said at the time, adding that requiring operators to provide only "full Internet" could kill innovative new offers and higher prices for consumers with limited needs.

The new Dutch Telecom Law will be in effect after the Queen signs the law and the law is officially published.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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