CDT Welcomes European Commission Proposal on Net Neutrality; Calls for Closing Key Loophole

On 11 September, the European Commission issued its long-awaited proposal for a Regulation on a Single Market for Electronic Communications, which includes a provision on net neutrality. CDT welcomes the Commission’s interest in establishing EU-level neutrality protections. The Commission’s draft appears to prohibit a variety of blocking and discrimination practices that have been identified by the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) as being widespread on European networks. At the same time, CDT is concerned that the draft proposal may contain a major loophole.

The Commission’s proposal distinguishes between general-purpose Internet access services and “specialized” or “managed” services, as CDT had recommended. But the central point of net neutrality protection is to establish that services in the Internet access category should carry traffic on a fundamentally nondiscriminatory basis. It is unclear whether the Commission’s proposal does this. The proposal would bar blocking, degradation, and discrimination against specific services or content. Arguably, that could leave Internet access providers free to pick favorites and prioritize certain traffic on the theory that they are discriminating in favor or specific services, rather than against anyone in particular.

“The Commission’s text provides a sound starting point for progress on the net neutrality issue in Europe,” said Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, CDT Representative and Director for European Affairs. “The proposal can and should be improved to clarify that Internet access services must be subject to a general non-discrimination principle. CDT plans to work with the European Parliament and Council to strengthen the proposal and ensure that it fully protects consumers’ right to choose which applications and content to use, without favoritism or interference by their access provider.”