How Not to Save #NetworkNeutrality

Today the European Parliament voted on the Telecoms Single Market in Europe, a part of the Commission’s agenda for the Digital Single Market. Netopia has previously reported on the Council’s position and welcomed the proposal, not so much thanks to the widely reported “end of roaming” or network neutrality, but because of the transparency regulation it introduces to the internet service providers traffic management practices.

Today’s vote was dressed up in dramatic words like the “open internet” and “level playing field”. Both sides seem to favor net neutrality, except views differ on whether the outcome actually saved it (like it was a threatened species that needed saving!). Says DSM czar Andrus Ansip: “This is a historic achievement”. But MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) calls it a “missed opportunity”.

It appears that the vote gives room for the so-called two-speed internet (fast lanes for specialized services), which by definition is not the same as a neutral network – which of course is what the ISPs want – it gives them freedom to adjust the infrastructure to business priorities. But the opposite, actual neutrality is not realistic: in case of capacity shortage, prioritization must happen. Of course we would prefer uninterrupted calls and videos over e-mail. Not to mention real-time traffic systems and medical applications. The big question is what is a specialised service and who decides? So neutrality is not a great answer to a functioning online society, transparent priorities and a neutral, common rule set is much better. This is the merit of the Commission’s policy. The question is not whether network neutrality was lost in today’s vote, but if the authorities can keep tabs on transparency and competition.