kreizihorse - Fotolia

Net neutrality laws have dangerous loopholes, says Tim Berners-Lee

As the European Parliament prepares for a key vote on net neutrality, web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has warned that stronger amendments are needed to close a number of worrying loopholes

Ahead of a key vote on net neutrality regulations at the European Parliament on 27 October 2015, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the protocols that made the World Wide Web a reality, and founding director of the Web Foundation, has appealed to members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to adopt stronger amendments and close a number of loopholes.

Writing on the Web Foundation’s website, Berners-Lee said he had designed the world wide web as an open platform “to foster collaboration and innovation”, and the principles of net neutrality had enabled it to become the powerful and ubiquitous platform it has become.

Berners-Lee said that to strengthen and clarify the proposed regulations, MEPs should insist on four key amendments:

  1. Currently, the regulations permit internet services providers (ISPs) to create a fast lane for companies that pay to have their content load faster by calling it “specialised services”. This loophole needs to be closed as a matter of urgency, said Berners-Lee.
  2. The second area of concern covers the practice known as zero-rating, where ISPs can exempt applications from users’ monthly bandwidth cap. Berners-Lee argued this would allow ISPs to practice economic discrimination against users, and proposed an amendment to allow the European Union (EU) member states to regulate and stamp out this practice independently of Brussels.
  3. The third loophole concerns how services are defined and classified. Currently the proposals allow ISPs to do this themselves and speed up or slow down traffic based on their own definitions. Berners-Lee argued that this was damaging to competition and potentially dangerous for encrypted services because it could allow ISPs to throttle them. He called for MEPs to amend the proposals to ban class-based discrimination.
  4. The fourth issue centres on the ability of ISPs to prevent “impending” congestion, meaning they could slow down traffic whenever they wanted on the basis that congestion was about to happen. This loophole also needed to be closed, said Berners-Lee.

“If adopted as currently written, these rules will threaten innovation, free speech and privacy, and compromise Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy,” wrote Berners-Lee.

“To underpin continued economic growth and social progress, Europeans deserve the same strong net neutrality protections similar to those recently secured in the US. As a European, and the inventor of the web, I urge politicians to heed this call. The web belongs to all of us, and so it’s up to each one of us to take action.”

Berners-Lee was writing after a number of internet firms and investors signed an open letter to the European Parliament in support of these amendments. Supporters include social media and sharing economy firms including BitTorrent, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Netflix, Reddit, Tumblr and Vimeo, as well as venture capitalists, digital rights organisations and other campaign groups, industry commentators and even faith leaders.

On 20 October 2015, Richard Hooper, chairman of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, a key actor in the independent development of the UK’s Open Internet Code, gave a speech in which he said the EU’s proposed regulations went too far and threatened to undermine the progress that has been made in the UK.

“Unfortunately, the EU have pursued a more prescriptive approach than is necessary or desirable in the UK and potentially hinders the ability of network providers to supply innovative services,” said Hooper.

Read more about net neutrality

Read more on Internet infrastructure