Time is running out for Net Neutrality in Europe: here's what you can do about it

The Net Neutrality fight in Europe epitomises everything wrong with the EU: a decision that will adversely effect the lives of hundreds of millions of people being taken by unelected bureaucrats, working in obscurity, attended by the well-paid lobbyists of the telcoms industry, which will only make continental headlines when it is a fair accompli.

The European Parliament — the elected part of the EU — voted in pretty good Net Neutrality rules. The European Commission — the unelected bureaucrats, who have a revolving door between regulating industries and getting high paid jobs in them, a rot that goes all the way to the top — are crafting rules that will let telcoms companies decide whether Europeans get to see the services they ask for quickly and efficiently, or whether the best quality of service will be reserved for online services that pay fat bribes to the carriers.

You have until July 18 to submit comments to the European Commission on its Net Neutrality consultation. Let's overwhelm them with comments from Europeans who want to have a network operated to their benefit — not one that uses Europeans as hostages, held to ransom by the carriers in their shakedown racket against online services.

BAN FAST LANES: Regulators need to close a loophole that could allow carriers to offer special "fast lanes" to normal websites and applications for a fee.
The telecom companies that connect us to the Internet want the power to charge websites extra fees to reach people faster. In a world where some websites can pay telcos to be in the "fast lane," anyone who can't afford the extra fees – start-ups, small businesses, bloggers, artists, activists, and everyday Europeans – will be left behind in the slow lane. Innovation and economic growth will suffer, and Europeans will be left with an Internet that is less vibrant, less diverse, and less useful.

Europe's net neutrality law stops telecom carriers from creating fast lanes online. But it contains an exception for "specialized services" that cannot work on the regular Internet. Carriers want to squeeze as much of a pay-to-play business model as they can into this exception, turning it into a giant loophole. Their stated goal: A world in which any application can buy a fast lane – not just those that could not function without it.

Regulators need to close this loophole by clarifying that the "specialized services" exception cannot be used to create fast lanes for normal Internet content. And they should regularly review what qualifies as a specialised service – remember that in the not too distant past, everyday services like web-based email or online video would have been seen as a specialized service!

BAN ZERO-RATING: Regulators need to ban harmful forms of zero-rating.
Carriers want to be able to exempt certain favored applications from users' monthly data caps, a practice called "zero-rating".

Like fast lanes, zero-rating lets carriers pick winners and losers by making certain apps more attractive than others. And like fast lanes, zero-rating hurts users, innovation, competition, and creative expression. In advanced economies like those in the European Union, there is no argument for zero-rating as a potential onramp to the Internet for first-time users.

The draft guidelines acknowledge that zero-rating can be harmful, but they leave it to national regulators to evaluate zero-rating plans on a case-by-case basis. Letting national regulators address zero-rating case-by-case disadvantages Internet users, start-ups, and small businesses that do not have the time or resources to defend themselves against discriminatory zero-rating before 28 different regulators.

The guidelines need a comprehensive, Europe-wide ban on harmful forms of zero-rating.

BAN DISCRIMINATION: Regulators need to prevent carriers from discriminating among classes of traffic to manage their networks.
Carriers would like to define classes of traffic to be sped up or slowed down, even in the absence of congestion. They say this will let them offer better quality Internet access. But class-based traffic management lets carriers discriminate against services at will. It allows carriers to distort competition, stifle innovation, and hurt users and providers who encrypt by putting all encrypted traffic in the slow lane.

The draft guidelines make clear that class-based traffic management can only be used as a last resort during exceptional or temporary congestion if less discriminatory methods cannot solve the problem. This is good, and ensures that the Internet remains a level playing field even during times of severe congestion.

But the guidelines are less clear for traffic management in the absence of congestion. This ambiguity could be misused as a loophole to allow carriers to discriminate in the name of addressing problems admittedly less severe than congestion, where discrimination can only be used as a last resort.

The draft guidelines should clarify that class-based traffic management can be used only if less discriminatory, application-agnostic methods cannot solve the problem, regardless of whether there is congestion or not.

PROTECT INTERNET ACCESS: Regulators need to prohibit new "specialized" services from taking over bandwidth that people bought to access the Internet.
Carriers want to offer new kinds of "specialized" services that need special handling not available on the Internet. People would buy these services separately, in addition to their normal Internet access. Carriers find these services attractive because they can charge the providers of these services extra fees for special treatment.

The draft guidelines allow these specialized services to take away bandwidth from people's Internet connection. In essence, telecom companies would take bandwidth that a customer bought to connect to the Internet and use it for a specialized service that the same person (and, potentially, the providers of these services) is paying for separately. That means people signing up for a specialized service would pay twice for the same bandwidth, and would have less bandwidth available for the websites and Internet apps of their choice. This harms people signing up for a specialized service, and makes it harder for Internet applications, content, and services to reach consumers.

The current version of the guidelines directly contradicts the law, which requires that specialized services be offered in addition to access to the Internet and must not reduce the quality of normal Internet access. Regulators need to correct the guidelines.

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Four Days to Save the Open Internet in Europe: An Open Letter
[Tim Berners-Lee, Lawrence Lessig and Barbara van Schewick/Web Foundation]