EU net neutrality discussions to continue into the next year

EU member states are discussing the possibility of watering down net neutrality proposals made by the Parliament and Commission

The European Union's net neutrality legislation isn't dead yet: EU telecommunications ministers discussing the issue Thursday delayed a decision on the proposed law until next year.

Thursday's meeting of the Council of the EU discussed what to do with a proposal from the European Commission and the European Parliament to enshrine net neutrality in EU law. The Parliament is aiming for a strict form of net neutrality that treats all Internet traffic equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, a position Members of the European Parliament confirmed in a resolution adopted earlier Thursday.

However, the Council still has to agree to the proposals and could be seeking to water them down. Italy, the current holder of the rotating Council presidency, has been pushing to remove the very definition of "net neutrality" from the bill, and also wishes to allow differential charging for services, according to a document published by the Council.

These proposals were criticized by MEPs, civil society groups and the new vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, who all urged the Council to stick with strict net neutrality rules.

Discussions in the Council though will continue until the Italy's presidency ends, a Council official said. It will hand over the reins to Latvia on Jan. 1.

The change of presidency may not alter much though, because member states holding the presidency work together closely in groups of three, determining the topics and major issues that will be addressed by the Council over an 18 month period. The current trio consists of Italy, Latvia and Luxembourg.

Speaking at a press conference after the Thursday meeting, Antonello Giacomelli, the Italian Undersecretary in charge of telecommunications who chaired the meeting, said that the Council had an intensive dialogue on net neutrality, adding that there was a "renewed commitment" towards it. "This was something that the member states supported loud and clear," he said, adding that the Council wants to put "citizens back at the center of things."

Though there were different opinions, the Council was willing to find common ground with the Parliament, he said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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