European telecommunications ministers could decide tonight whether to endorse a net neutrality clause in the long-awaited Telecoms Package.
The meeting, scheduled for 9:30pm, will discuss whether to endorse Amendment 138, which guarantees network users than no-one can interfere with their access to and enjoyment of the internet without a court order, otherwise known as the net neutrality principle.
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The US Federal Communications Commissioner endorsed the principle last week, saying he would consult on making net neutrality a rule, along with five other principles to keep the internet as free and open as possible.
Responding to the FCC's statement, Malcolm Hutty, spokesman for UK and European internet service providers (ISPs), said, "British and European ISPs will be watching American regulatory developments with interest. The market structure, competition regime and the telecoms regulatory framework are all quite different in Europe from the US, so the American debate on network neutrality doesn't translate directly across the Atlantic."
Amendment 138 is a bone of contention. Without it, ISPs will be free to limit access and internet bandwidth speeds, filter and delete messages, and otherwise vary the user's experience of access the internet without recourse to the courts.
Those who argue against the amendment say it is needed to stop illegal transfers of copyright material and other cybercriminality. Proponents, who mostly agree that illegal filesharing should be stopped, argue that without it, consumers and smaller communications services providers will have no power to enforce contracts with larger network operators, thus entrenching their market dominance.