New research by epicenter.works and Mozilla Fellow Thomas Lohninger finds that many telecom companies in Europe are flouting net neutrality rules — and EU member states often aren’t reacting
It’s been two-and-a-half years since net neutrality laws were enacted in the European Union — are they working?
Comprehensive new research by the Vienna, Austria-based nonprofit epicenter.works answers this question, examining if telecom companies are breaking net neutrality rules, how regulators are reacting, and how this affects internet users across the continent. The report is titled “The Net Neutrality Situation in the EU: Evaluation of the First Two Years of Enforcement.”
The report features a particular focus on the practice of zero-rating, or telecom companies providing special treatment to certain online services or applications, by pricing those applications differently. Zero-rating is a clear violation of net neutrality in India or Canada, but the European rules foresee a case-by-case assessment by the telecom regulators. The study includes a complete survey of all zero-rating offers in Europe, including the applications that benefit from them.
The 60-page report draws on several data sets, including Internet Access Service (IAS) pricing schemes, National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NRA) annual reports, member states’ penalty provisions for net neutrality infringements, and more. When analyzed together, the data paints a vivid picture of the flawed state of net neutrality in the EU:
“During the first two-and-a-half years of the European net neutrality rules being in force, zero-rating has spread in all but two EU countries,” says Thomas Lohninger, Executive Director of epicenter.works and a Mozilla Fellow. “During this spread, regulators have systematically refrained to intervene against — or even formally assess — these practices.”
Among the report’s key findings:
- Member states have wildly different approaches to enforcement. Some countries fine telecom companies nine-digit Euro amounts for violations (e.g. the Netherlands and the UK), while others fine companies only four-digit Euro amounts (e.g. Estonia). Further, some countries still haven’t put forth violation rules (e.g. Ireland and Portugal). See TABLE 1 for details
- Telecoms are not being transparent. Despite BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) rules that telecoms provide at least a minimum level of transparency into their internet speeds, companies are not publishing that information and regulators are turning a blind eye.
- Zero-rating drives up the price of data for EU consumers. Research found that in markets with zero-rating practices, the price of data increased 2% year-over-year. In markets without zero-rating practices, the price of data decreased 8% year-over-year. Consumers who think zero-rating means they get something for free are in fact paying more for limited access to the internet. See GRAPHIC 1 for details.
- Zero-rating erodes user privacy. In order to implement zero-rating, telecom companies must monitor users behaviour via privacy-intrusive detection methods, like deep packet inspection technology. That level of control over the network goes against the core of the net neutrality principle. See GRAPHIC 2 for details.
- Zero-rating has a negative impact on the EU’s Digital Single Market. The study is accompanied by a complete survey of all zero-rating practices in Europe and the applications that participate in these offers. Under the top 20 applications that benefit from zero-rating, only three are from Europe. Almost no applications from other EU countries get zero-rated. See GRAPHICS 3 and 4 for details.
In addition to analyzing net neutrality violations, the report analyzes the broader landscape that permits these violations. “The implementation of the European net neutrality regulation lacks a harmonised approach,” Lohninger says. “Even on comparatively simple questions such as port blocking, national regulatory authorities have divergent interpretations of the same EU-wide ruleset.”
epicenter.works is the leading Austrian NGO for the strengthening of fundamental rights and freedom in the digital age. The donation-funded association stands against the extension of state surveillance, and for fundamental rights to privacy and a free, open internet. epienter.works (previously „AK — Vorratsdaten Österreich“) has mobilized more than 100,000 people and in 2014 it achieved the repeal of the EU Directive on the retention of data by the European Court of Justice. Since then, epicenter.works has been a critical companion to all plans to expand regulatory surveillance competence. Its experts highlight the effects of network policy laws and develop concrete solutions in accordance with fundamental rights.
Mozilla believes the internet must always remain a global public resource, open and accessible to all. Our direct work focuses on fueling the movement for a healthy internet. We do this by supporting a diverse group of fellows working on key internet issues, connecting open internet leaders at events like MozFest, publishing critical research in the Internet Health Report, and rallying citizens around advocacy issues that connect the wellbeing of the internet directly to everyday life. Learn more at foundation.mozilla.org
TABLE 1: Net neutrality violation penalties, by EU member states.
Graphic 1: Price development of mobile data in markets with and without zero-rating.
Graphic 2: The high layers of the internet architecture telecom companies are prohibited from monitoring. The red arrows highlight the layers which telecom companies inspect to make zero-rating deals possible (count data for certain applications differently via URL & SNI parameters).
Graphic 3: Top 20 applications that are most often zero-rated in Europe.
Graphic 4: Geographical relationship of zero-rating deals.