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16th May 2021

EU to slap ban on online blocking

  • An estimated 236 million European Internet users have suffered a restricted service online (Photo: Bombardier)

The EU will ban Internet service providers from manipulating and blocking access to certain websites, according to a European Commission official.

Speaking with EUobserver on Tuesday (11 June) following an internal debate among commissioners, an EU official indicated that the proposal would include a ban on blocking and throttling. Bandwidth throttling, where a network provider deliberately slows down the service on certain websites, has been identified as the most common restriction to service.

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However, it is likely that exemptions will be included to differentiation based on speed and volume of online traffic.

The proposals, which will form part of an overhaul to the bloc's regulation on the digital telecoms sector, are expected to be published by digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes in late July.

"What matters is that people aren't stopped from accessing the content they want and that we maximise network investment so that everything works better because of higher speeds," the official said.

The Netherlands and Slovenia are currently the only EU countries with national laws on net neutrality.

Net neutrality campaigners argue that Internet service providers and governments should treat data equally and not discriminate against or restrict access to websites and online services.

Last week, 20 Internet entrepreneurs signed an open letter calling on EU lawmakers to put in place "safeguards to curb the tendencies of access operators to act as gatekeepers of the Internet."

They said the practice is "harmful to the fundamental rights of users, to new and existing companies counting on the global reach of the Internet to launch and grow their businesses and to innovation and the economy in general."

Meanwhile, evidence collected in 2012 by Berec, the pan-European group of national Internet service providers, found that around one in five fixed lines and over one in three mobile users had restricted services.

For their part, MEPs are likely to support net neutrality rules, having twice adopted non-legislative resolutions calling on the commission to act.

Speaking with this website, Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal MEP and prominent digital rights campaigner, welcomed the proposed.

"I'm happy that blocking and throttling will be banned. This practice hurts access to people's information, is anti-competitive and limits an open internet," she said

But she also voiced caution noting that "as ever the the devil will be in the detail", adding that "the gap between relying on transparency and competition as the commission has done in the past and rules that are legally binding is large. I really hope the Commission will take this important step."

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