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21st Jan 2019

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EU battle for open Internet rules rages on

  • “Right now the net is neutral, but it's not guaranteed. We do not have legislation on net neutrality in Europe” (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

The European battle to maintain the open character of the Internet is not over yet.

Several Liberal and left-wing members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are trying to convince colleagues to support amendments that they say would close loopholes in new legislation that will be put to a vote in a plenary session in Strasbourg Tuesday (27 October).

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  • Michel Reimon, member of the left-wing Green group (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs will vote on a package deal that promises to end roaming surcharges for consumers travelling abroad within the EU, as well as safeguard the open Internet in the EU. The deal was agreed by negotiators on behalf of the Parliament and member states last June but needs formal approval from both.

But soon after EU politicians congratulated themselves on the new rules, criticism started to pop up from consumer groups and digital rights organisations, saying the rules on open internet are not robust enough.

“We try to save the net neutrality part with these amendments”, Austrian Green MEP Michel Reimon told EUobserver.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers, or other intermediaries between Internet users and a website or online service, do not discriminate between the content requested by the user.

For example, if a provider decided to allow a video-streaming website to load much faster than that of a competing company - because it may have a contract to favour one over the other - that would be against net neutrality.

“Right now the net is neutral, but it's not guaranteed. We do not have legislation on net neutrality in Europe”, said Reimon, with the exception of the Netherlands and Slovenia, which adopted national rules. Reimon and Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake are among the most active trying to change the deal.

The Austrian said the new EU rules were so watered down in the negotiations with member states, that they are even worse than the current situation.

“The original idea [behind the new rules] was to guarantee it on EU level. The minimum was to let national legislators do it. … What we are doing now, is: we are not allowing [governments] to guarantee net neutrality”, noted Reimon, saying the Netherlands and Slovenia would have to abandon their national laws.

Dutch MP Kees Verhoeven, in a previous interview with EUobserver, had already expressed his worry of the risk that the European rules will “in practice be a weakening of the Dutch variant”.

Reopening a closed deal?

The amendments would revert parts of the text to the original position approved by the European Parliament before it started talks with the member states. The changes would need approval from member states, otherwise new talks to find another compromise will be required.

And because roaming and net neutrality are voted in one package, many MEPs will feel reluctant to change the deal they have.

Most MEPs will be happy to tell voters that they were able to abolish the much-loathed roaming surcharges - and the unpleasant surprise bills for the calling or downloading traveller.

MEP Reimon said “it's a tight race”.

“We probably do not have the majority now, but it's possible that we will have it within a week because we are talking a lot to people”, said Reimon on Wednesday (21 October).

If not, Reimon said his group will consider voting against the whole package, because he also misses having guarantees that roaming surcharges will actually end mid-2017.

Meanwhile, there is also a possibility that another surcharge will substitute roaming.

Phone companies will be allowed to charge consumers if they are using their phone abroad beyond what is considered fair use.

The Commission will adopt rules that define what is fair use before 15 December 2016. Only if we see that definition will we know whether roaming surcharges will return under a different name.

According to the draft agenda, the vote will take place on Tuesday (27 October).

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