Today’s release of the Net Neutrality implementation guidelines by the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communication (BEREC) marks the culmination of three years of policy, advocacy, and tech work on Net Neutrality in the EU. We are very happy to say the end result is just about perfect.
We have worked very closely with a number of civil society groups in the EU, and with you — our community — to get here.
This is to say: Thank you, internet! You spoke out, and you got results.
What happened and what did we achieve?
In September 2013, the EU Commission advanced a long-awaited proposal for a Net Neutrality law in the EU: the Telecoms Single Market Regulation (TSM). But there was a problem: the proposal would have allowed discriminatory treatment of internet traffic and the creation of slow and fast lanes for the internet — the opposite of Net Neutrality.
April 2014, after intense work and a first successful campaign with the SavetheInternet.eu coalition, the EU Parliament changed the text of the TSM to include a binding definition of Net Neutrality and close all loopholes that would have enabled network discrimination. However, the rules on enforcement are loose.
April 2015, the EU member states adopt a version of the TSM that includes even more loopholes than the text from the European Commission, and aims to allow zero rating.
July 2015, the three institutions agree on a final text that defines Net Neutrality without ever using the word. It is aimed at protecting users’ rights, does not have obvious loopholes, and has strong enforcement. Yet its vagueness could enable discrimination. BEREC is tasked with clarifying the rules and developing guidelines for how they can be interpreted and implemented. This outcome is not perfect, yet with two institutions against strong Net Neutrality, it is quite positive.
November 2015, the EU officially adopts the TSM.
June 2016, BEREC presents draft guidelines that are robust and bring clarity to the text. Sub-internet offers are banned and the rules are user-centric. But we argue that there should be further clarity to ensure that:
- Treatment of specialised services that are not delivered over the internet — such as connected car — do not impact internet users’ quality of service
- Traffic management is application-agnostic
- Zero rating is banned
June – July 2016: BEREC holds public consultation. There were more than 500.000 responses — an historic number for a consultation in the EU!
August 30: Publication and entry in force of the revised guidelines. BEREC addressed most of our concerns in the final version of the guidelines, and it is well in line with its own enduring position on Net Neutrality. We have only one remaining concern: the ‘case by case’ approach to zero rating offers. While BEREC has created a robust set of criteria for zero rating offers to avoid discrimination, the fact that there will be a case-by-case approach may mean that the EU will be fragmented when it comes to protecting internet users’ right to receive and impart information.
Now that we have the implementation guidelines, it is up to the national regulatory bodies to make sure they are implemented correctly. We will be keeping a close eye on implementation, and continue working with all our European partners to ensure the hard work put into the Net Neutrality guidelines is respected and everyone is able to enjoy its protections.
Here is an overview of our analysis and posts since August 2013. The titles are quite reflective of the roller-coaster that this campaign has been:
July 2013: Ending network discrimination in the EU
September 2013: Commission proposal fails to deliver promise of Net Neutrality
November 2013: Access Now opinion on the TSM
December 2013: Q&A on traffic management in the TSM
December 2013: Eight steps to an open internet
December 2013: Specialised services – How to get it right
February 2014: A bag of tricks postpones the EU vote on Net Neutrality
March 2015: Net Neutrality Battle in Europe Far from Over
June 2015: Net Neutrality – building on success
December 2015: Yes, there’s still a chance for Net Neutrality in Europe
December 2015: Access Now submission to BEREC Stakeholder meeting