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EU Lawmakers Back Net Neutrality but Not Roaming Fees

At a time when the U.S. is facing headaches over the issue, a set of votes by the European Parliament set the stage for a mandated open internet across the continent, as well as the end of data-roaming fees for mobile users in the EU. Trade groups, however, were a little less excited about the plan.

At a time when the U.S. is facing headaches over the issue, a set of votes by the European Parliament set the stage for a mandated open internet across the continent, as well as the end of data-roaming fees for mobile users in the EU. Trade groups, however, were a little less excited about the plan.

The U.S. government may be struggling to find its footing on open-internet rules, but the European Union appears to be coming to a consensus on net neutrality.

The European Parliament voted to approve amendments to measures that critics believed would have created a two-tier approach to the internet. More details:

Setting a precedent: On Thursday, the parliament voted to tighten regulations set by the European Commission that had the potential to allow providers to prioritize certain types of internet service, as well as access to certain sites. The amendments to the rules state that such specialized services (think the cloud, or video on demand) could only be offered if they did not interfere with other forms of access. In the process, the body came up with a definition for the term “net neutrality”: “‘Net neutrality’ means the principle according to which all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application,” the draft of the amendment text stated, according to EU Observer.

Extra room to roam: In another Thursday vote, the parliament decided to end mobile roaming fees within the 28-country EU zone by December 2015. The goal, according to European Commissioner for Digital Affairs Neelie Kroes, is ultimately to encourage a single market for mobile telecommunications across the region. “This is what the EU is all about—getting rid of barriers to make life easier and less expensive. We should know what we are buying, we should not be ripped off, and we should have the opportunity to change our mind,” Kroes told Reuters.

Trade groups express concerns: While the net neutrality and roaming decisions were backed by small businesses and advocacy groups such as Access, European telecom associations had strong misgivings. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), for example, expressed concern that the open-internet amendments could hurt user choice and business capabilities. “The text approved today would introduce far-reaching restrictions on traffic management, which would make an efficient management of the network almost impossible, resulting in a lower quality internet for all,” the association stated. The mobile-focused GSM Association, meanwhile, argued the net neutrality changes “would further compromise investment and hinder innovation,” and said that the roaming plan came at a time when “Europe’s telecoms operators are facing decreasing revenues and reduced market values compared with operators in the U.S. and Asia as well as players across the broader mobile ecosystem.”

The move comes at a time when one country that has long flirted with joining the European Union, Turkey, has faced significant criticism over its internet censorship practices—particularly in banning the social network Twitter last month. The ban was lifted after a court ruling this week.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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