The European Union has published strict guidelines to enforce net neutrality. However, the rules do have exceptions that mean they fall short of a ‘pure’ interpretation of the principle.
While the net neutrality debate in the US has been bogged down in arguments about legal authority in the rulemaking process, the EU had already agreed the net neutrality principle through the Telecoms Single Market Regulation. It’s up to individual countries to enforce that principle through local rules and, following a lengthy consultation, the EU has now produced guidelines for those rules.
The rules will affect internet service providers operating in any EU member country and in the vast majority of cases the ISPs won’t be allowed to offer faster or priority transmission based on either the source of the traffic or the type of data it carries.
The main exception will be about “specialized services” that inherently require fast and reliable connections such as live video streaming for TV or remote healthcare. Even this exception is somewhat limited as while ISPs can give priority to such services, they can only do so if it would not degrade other traffic.
More controversially, providers can discriminate between types of traffic for three specific reasons:
- complying with a legal order;
- protecting the integrity and security of the network; or
- managing congestion.
That would allow, for example, slowing down traffic from peer-to-peer filesharing, but not favoring one P2P service over another, and not blocking P2P completely.
The rules also leave the national regulators with some leeway, for example over whether to allow ‘zero rating’ systems where mobile operators don’t count particular services towards monthly data caps.