First two votes on net neutrality: some sweet, some sour – we’ve got a long road ahead


This post was co written by Marios Papandreou, Engagement Intern


The Culture and Education (CULT) and Legal Affairs (JURI) Committees of the European Parliament voted today on the European Telecom Single Market proposal, tabled in September 2013 by the Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes. The proposed Regulation, which principally aims at completing a “European Single Market for electronic communications and achieving a Connected Continent” includes provisions putting network neutrality at stake.

Five of the European Parliament’s Committees are in charge of the Commission’s proposal. Four of them will provide an opinion, and one — the lead Committee — will take the final decision. The vote these two Committees cast earlier today is considered an opinion vote, which will pave the way towards and impact the final vote of the lead Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee on 27 February.

This double vote illustrated that there is important potential for the final vote to lead to a positive outcome but achieving this in the next six weeks will be no easy task. While Access welcomes the positive outcome of the CULT vote, which opened a new window of hope for protection against network discrimination, the result of the vote in the JURI Committee leaves several loopholes open and is a pledge for NOT neutrality rather than net neutrality.

Sweet and sour

Members of the JURI Committee voted in favour of weak and unclear provisions on the open and neutral internet. The JURI Committee, ostensibely responsible for clarification and consistency of a legislative proposal missed its opportunity to address the shortcoming of the Comission’s proposal and in some cases such as “specialised services”, they replaced existing loopholes with new ones.

“Specialised services” in its current form would enable Telecommunication companies to create arbitrary tolls limiting access to internet services. In practical terms, this would mean the creation of “fast lane” for a few priviledged internet services, while other content and services would be left to languish in the “slow lane”. It is no doubt true that tiered internet services are already an unfortunate reality in some member states such as Germany and Spain. However, the Single Market for Electronic Communications would make those dangerous exceptions the norm across Europe. Read more about our analysis of the Commission’ proposal here.

Added to this, JURI  does not provide a clear definition of “reasonable traffic management” measures. However, the provision for the prevention and impediment of serious crimes, which would allow for dangerous and unpredictable exceptions to internet freedom — outside of the rule of law — was removed.

A few hours before the vote in JURI, the CULT Committee proved its commitment to protecting the internet as a platform for free expression and innovation, which constitutes a major step towards achieving the final target of safeguarding net neutrality. Not only did it put forward an excellent definition of “specialised services” and “traffic management” but it also significantly improved the provisions that would increase transparency around traffic management. Last but not least, the CULT Committee removed the possibility for Internet Services Providers (ISPs) to discriminate on the basis of connection speeds, quality of service, as well as prohibiting the blocking of applications and services.

Next steps


This “sweet and sour” result only represent the views of two committees; there is still a long way to go before seeing net neutrality enshrined into EU law. In the light of the upcoming vote on Thursday 23 in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee, citizens are invited to visit savetheinternet.eu to learn more about the issue at stake and take action. This online platform was launched by a coalition of NGOs across Europe, including Access, to provide background information and help citizens to contact Members of the European Parliament.

Want to help save the internet? Join the movement and contact your parliamentarian now! Tell them to protect the internet! Ask them to protect net neutrality!