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European parliament votes in support of net neutrality

Warwick Ashford

The European parliament has come out in support of telecoms legislation in Europe that will enforce net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality is the principle that data packets on the internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source.

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The issue has been the subject of intensive lobbying and debate, with telecoms operators arguing they should be able to charge extra to internet firms that rely heavily on their investments in capacity.

But European members of parliament (MEPs) have voted strongly in favour of proposed legislation to prevent telecoms network operators from blocking or slowing down selected services for any reason.

In May 2012, European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes said she wanted to end uncertainty over net neutrality in Europe.

She was responding to a report that 20% of broadband contracts and 50% of mobile internet contracts allowed providers to restrict certain services such as voice-over-IP (VoIP) and video streaming.

Internet firms such as Google and Netflix would benefit from net neutrality, but will have to wait until the draft legislation gets approval in October from the Council of the European Union to become law.

In the US, Netflix is calling on the government to introduce new net neutrality laws after a court ruled last month that existing regulations are unlawful, reports the Telegraph.

In January, a US appeals court ruled in favour of allowing telecoms providers to offer faster connections to partners and even block competitors, saying enforcement of net neutrality was unconstitutional.

Net neutrality campaigners have welcomed the MEPs’ vote, the paper said. They argue that net neutrality guarantees consumer choice by ensuring that new internet companies can compete with those that can afford to pay extra charges to telecoms companies.

UK campaign organisation, the Open Rights Group, said the proposed legislation would mean net neutrality is properly defined and protected in law to ensure all internet traffic is treated equally.

However, the battle in Europe is not over. The proposed legislation faces another vote in the European parliament and scrutiny by EU member states before it can be approved.

Opponents of net neutrality say the proposed legislation could have the unintended consequence of stifling innovation by requiring that all new networks will have to be capable of streaming music and video.

Some European telecoms operators claim that the proposed legislation risks derailing the Connected Continent Regulation, which aims to ensure a strong European digital industry that will provide jobs.

The full package of telecoms reforms approved by MEPs also included legislation to scrap mobile phone roaming charges by 2015.


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