EU to ban roaming charges, internet throttling
The European Commission on Wednesday (11 September) put forward plans to ban charges for incoming calls when abroad, but allowing internet providers to charge more for high-quality connections.
Under the proposal, which remains to be tweaked and approved by the European Parliament and member states, charges for incoming calls when travelling in another EU country will be banned from 2014 on.
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Charges for outgoing calls when in another EU country will also drop, as customers will be able to get short-term contracts with local providers in order to pay the same per minute as if they were at home.
"We need to push roaming premiums out of the single market, not just reduce them," telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes said, following the commission's adoption of her telecom laws reform.
The changes also contain a controversial provision on "net neutrality."
Kroes says her proposal - which was heavily lobbied by telecoms and internet providers - defends the principle of an open internet for all and specifically bans throttling the connection, or even severing it, for customers who do not subscribe to a premium service.
"Our proposed regulation means no blocking, no slowing down of service, no matter what subscription you have," Kroes said.
The regulation does not ban "prioritisation" - users or companies with bigger data volumes being given priority over regular content, such as private emails - however.
"We want to support a thriving app economy and possible new internet industries in Europe. Therefore companies are still able to provide 'specialised services' with assured quality - such as IPTV, video on demand, apps including high-resolution medical imaging - so long as this does not interfere with the internet speeds promised to other customers," Kroes explained.
Some internet experts are sceptical.
For his part, Jeremie Zimmermann from La Quadrature du Net, a French NGO promoting internet freedom, called Kroes' bluff on net neutrality.
"Allowing prioritisation of traffic voids any net neutrality provision which bans throttling or blocking of communications, as in practice these deals for discriminating communications, only accessible to massive actors such as Google, will amount to de-prioritising everything else," Zimmermann told this website.
With an ageing infrastructure and no incentives to invest in costly broadband cables, internet providers have developed a business model based specifically on prioritisation of traffic.
Ben Scott, a former advisor to the US state department on internet matters and currently based in Berlin with the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung think tank, noted that, for over 10 years, internet providers have refined their capacity of analysing what goes through their routers and offered priority treatment for companies who pay more.
"Is the internet a public good or a commercial service? This is still not clear. So instead of net neutrality, we have net uncertainty," Scott said on Monday at a technology fair in Berlin.
He warned that if policy makers decide that internet is a public good, a lot of investments will have to be carried by taxpayers, because telecom companies do not have "that kind of money" to expand broadband infrastructure on nation-wide levels.