Pressure mounts in Europe for strict net neutrality

European telecommunications ministers will discuss a watered-down net neutrality proposal Thursday

Members of the European Parliament, along with civil society groups, have urged European member states to stick with strict net neutrality rules.

They did so the day before a meeting of telecommunications ministers in the EU Council, who will discuss an Italian proposal that would water down net neutrality.

Italy, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council, has proposed removing the very definition of net neutrality and allowing differential charging for services, according to preparatory documents for the meeting.

"The initial impressions of your proposals concern us, as they would water down precisely those strong definitions of net neutrality and specialized services that are needed in an EU Digital Single Market," a group of 131 MEPs said in a letter to the Italian presidency Wednesday.

Net neutrality should be enshrined in EU law with clear definitions and strong provisions as adopted by the European Parliament in April, they said.

The MEPs seem to have found an ally in Andrus Ansip, the new vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Single Market who said he is worried about the direction that the Council negotiations have taken, during a speech given to the European Parliament in Strasbourg Wednesday evening.

"The net neutrality concept has to be solid and should be clearly defined," he said, urging member states "to be ambitious and take a decisive step" toward achieving a single telecom market in Thursday's meeting.

A similar call came from 16 civil society groups that urged the Council to adopt strong net neutrality rules and reject the Italian proposal.

"Without clear rules on net neutrality, the larger access providers become gatekeepers -- with the power to allow access to their customers to those who can pay for the privilege and to exclude all others," they warned in a letter sent to the Council Wednesday.

"We need clear EU rules that outlaw any type of network discrimination such as blocking, throttling, and price discrimination," they said, adding that the Italian proposal will allow a few former monopolies to reassert their monopoly rights, restricting competition, restricting innovation and restricting freedom of communication. "Europe deserves better."

The groups also set up a campaign website to mobilize EU citizens urging them to contact their Council representatives and tell them to back strong net neutrality.

Another Italian proposal being discussed Thursday aims to delay the abolition of roaming charges in the EU. This also worries Ansip, who said a digital single market needs decent solutions on roaming and net neutrality.

That sentiment was echoed by the MEPs. "The elimination of roaming charges is already long overdue," they said, adding that pushing the date beyond Dec. 15, 2015, would allow for extra charges when people travel in the EU which will hurt and disappoint European citizens. They asked the Council to deliver net neutrality and an end to roaming by mid-December next year.

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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