EU Kills Roaming Charges, Passes Net Neutrality Rules

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The European Parliament passed the Telecoms Single Market regulatory package to end roaming charges in the EU, and created a two-tier internet in Europe in the process, according to critics. Proposals to amend the legislation were rejected, which means the Council’s draft is passed as written, including controversial zero-rating measures.

The debate preceding the vote was attended by only 50 of 751 MEPs, Ars Technica reports. The Telecoms Single Market package was touted, at least initially, as eliminating roaming fees while providing legal guarantees of net neutrality. The European Parliament says it obliges ISPs to treat all traffic equally, and deal with network congestion in a “transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate” manner.

It goes on to say that “[a]n operator will nonetheless be able to offer specialized services (such as the improved internet quality needed for certain services), but only on condition that this does not have an impact on general internet quality.”

“Thanks to this agreement, Europe will also become the only region in world which legally guarantees open internet and net neutrality. The principle of net neutrality will be applied directly in the 28 member states. It also ensures that we will not have a two-speed internet,” said the rapporteur, Pilar del Castillo (EPP, ES), in the debate before the vote.

The latter assertion, however, is exactly opposite to that of critics, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who supported the amendments, and who say a two-speed internet is guaranteed by “specialized services” and zero-rating clauses – more strongly guaranteed, perhaps, than even the elimination of roaming fees.

“In the end, not even the words ‘net neutrality’ survived the closed-door negotiations with the Commission and the Council. The text leaves open critical loopholes,” said Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda.

As for the roaming fees, Reda says: “The plan to place an end to roaming surcharges in Europe has been adopted pending a review of pricing and consumption patterns. Even if the review is completed by the 15 June 2017 deadline, roaming surcharges will only be suspended up to a ‘fair use’ limit beyond which they still apply and continue to hinder the breaking down of barriers within Europe.”

The proposed amendments were supported by about 200 MEPs, according to TechCrunch, but the draft proposal was passed after European Commission VP for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said that introducing amendments involved “a risk of delays, not only months, but years.”

It is still unclear what impact American net neutrality rules will have on Internet traffic prioritization practice, despite President Obama‘s position.

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