European Parliament gets it right on net neutrality say digital liberties groups

A committee vote puts pressure on law-makers to legislate on net neutrality

Civil liberties groups have broadly welcomed a resolution by the European Parliament's Industry Committee on Thursday that puts pressure on law-makers to come up with tougher rules in favor of net neutrality.

The Industry (ITRE) Committee adopted a text demanding that the European Commission promptly assess the need for further legislative action. To date, the Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has taken a "wait and see" approach.

The content of the resolution has been hotly debated by the committee for a number of weeks and the end result is more strongly in favor of net neutrality than first envisioned.

One amendment calls on the Commission "to guard that Internet Service Providers do not block, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use a service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any content, application, or service of their choice irrespective of source or target." It also states that net neutrality is a "significant prerequisite for enabling an innovative Internet ecosystem."

"A further very positive development was that the committee listened to civil society criticisms of references to net neutrality only covering "legal" content. The fact is that Internet access providers are not judges, are not courts and are not police -- so they have to treat all content equally. The adopted text abandons this confusing and counterproductive wording," said Joe McNamee from digital civil liberties group EDRi.

"It rejects the big telco view that 'transparency' will solve all net neutrality problems. A compromise amendment was adopted stating that transparency was nothing more than 'among the minimum' necessary conditions," he said.

Nonetheless, the text avoids pressing for sanctions against Internet service providers (ISPs) who restrict access to the Internet. It also includes a loophole, which risks being interpreted as accepting restrictions on mobile Internet on the pretext of alleged network congestion, according to La Quadrature du Net.

"While rather weak, the adopted resolution is a political commitment from the European Parliament in favor of net neutrality, and aims to prevent telecom operators from restricting Internet access. Pressure is increasing on Commissioner Neelie Kroes and the E.U. telecoms regulators to come up with further legislation. Kroes must break away from her 'wait and see' approach and take action to effectively protect competition, innovation as well as citizens' freedom of expression and privacy online," said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesman for La Quadrature du Net, a French online rights group.

The telecoms industry itself also welcomed the resolution: "The European Parliament has confirmed that effective competition is of paramount importance to guarantee that European consumers benefit from freedom of choice on the Internet. ECTA joins the strong call of the Parliament to the European Commission and the member states to ensure the enforcement of the telecom regulations to achieve this goal," said the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA).

The text adopted by the ITRE committee will now go to the vote before the entire European Parliament in November.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

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