What has the European Parliament gone and done?

I’d like to take a closer look at the ramifications of the European Parliament’s legislation, passed on Tuesday, which is now unlikely to be subjected to any further amendments. In particular, I’d like to go over in detail the specific proposals regarding the neutrality of the internet, which is what citizens throughout the 27-member bloc wanted MEPs to guarantee.

In general terms, what was being asked for was that the internet remain a place where anybody with anything interesting to say could do so, secure in the knowledge that to do so did not require significant amounts of money. In other words, that the internet remain neutral, its traffic flow not dependent on licenses, privileged contracts, commercial agreements, or the interests of third parties.

So let’s start with a definition of internet neutrality:

“Citizens and businesses have the right to expect that data traffic is not manipulated, distorted, blocked, diverted, prioritized or delayed on the basis of content, protocols or applications, the origin or destination of communication, or of any other consideration not the result of choice. This traffic will be treated as private and can only be spied on, traced, recorded or analyzed under strict judicial guidelines, as any private correspondence would be in reality.”

This and nothing else is what the European Parliament was being asked to preserve. Now let’s look at what deputies decided on, bearing in mind that when laws are passed, anything that is not prohibited is permitted:

  • Telecommunications companies can create and sell faster connections on the basis of “special services.” This is the means by which anybody who cuts a deal with an operator can offer their services at faster speed than conventional internet, essentially giving operators the power to grant licenses. In other words, if you don’t have the money to pay to jump the queue, your content will only be found by people prepared to look for it on the backroads of the internet. Allowing operators to determine what constitutes “special services” is the end of the internet as we know it.
  • Operators will be able to create different classes of service and will be able to speed up or slow down access, even when there are no traffic problems. Once again, operators will be calling the shots. No innovative service will succeed unless the operators allow it; already popular services could find themselves out in the cold if telecoms operator so decides.
  • Operators will be able to negotiate zero-rating tariffs, enabling internet service providers to give customers a reprieve on broadband or mobile data caps for certain internet uses. While most online activity, such as web browsing, counts against your cap, a service provider might decide to exempt a specific video streaming or messaging app from your monthly limits. Once again, the operators are being allowed to call the shots.
  • The operators will be able to manage traffic at times of “imminent” congestion, but without having to provide any explanations. Using congestion as an excuse, they will be able to interrupt services when they like, leaving service providers with no choice but to take the matter to court, so that, in the best-case scenario, several years later a judge can rule in its favor.

This is what our wonderful European Parliament has passed into law. Deputies elected to represent our interests have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the telecommunications companies, giving them what they probably never dared to dream of. And in return? Roaming charges are to be abolished… in 2017.

Günther Oettinger, the European Commissioner for the Digital Economy, added insult to injury by releasing a press statement congratulating EU tax payers and lying about the vote: nothing that he says is protected has been protected. Have no illusions, the telecoms companies can do all the things he says that in theory they cannot. This has to be one of the most outrageous acts of hypocrisy in decades.

One can only wonder what Spanish MEP and former minister of education Pilar del Castillo thinking when she described the new law as “looking carefully” after the internet, when in reality she had just done her bit to kill off the web’s defining characteristic: neutrality.

And one might reasonably ask just what the telecoms operators had to offer in return for a carte blanche? On what basis does an elected representative mortgage the future of innovation in the EU, making the telecoms operators the lords and masters of everything that travels through their cables? Why were deputies in so much of a hurry to get this raft of legislation through that they wouldn’t allow for further discussion and amendments? What is the point of a European Parliament paid for by us that in reality answers only to powerful business lobbies?

Thank you very much Pilar del Castillo for this “impressive” proposal. Thank you very much Günther Oettinger for insulting us. Thank you very much those eurodeputies who supported the new legislation and rejected any amendments. You did what you were told… by the telecoms lobby. With representatives like you, who needs enemies?

(En español, aquí)