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European Parliament Rejects Net Neutrality Amendments

The European Parliament voted on Tuesday against a series of amendments to its newest Internet legislation.

Critics of the bill claim its proposals threaten the openness of the Internet by allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer special ‘fast lane’ services to paying companies at the expense of regular users.

Marietje Schaake, a Dutch MEP in favour of the amendments, called their rejection a “missed opportunity.”

“Too much attention was given to the interests of national telecom companies” she said “and too little to those of Internet users and the economy of the future. This has led to vague texts on net neutrality, which compromises the open Internet.”

One core concern is that the bill will allow companies to pay providers for zero-rated status under which companies can offer data to users without those users incurring any charge. Cell phone users, for instance, would be able to access zero-rated sites or use zero-rated apps without them counting against their data caps; some may even be able to access content without any sort of data plan at all.

“Now, European start-ups may have to compete on an uneven playing field against industry titans, while small civil society groups risk having their voices overwhelmed by well-funded giants,” said Anne Jellema, CEO of the Web Foundation.

Barbara van Schewick, a professor of law at Stanford University, says she fears the legislation will also intensify already-existing discriminatory traffic management practices.

“The proposal allows ISPs to define classes and speed up or slow down traffic in those classes.” It also allows them to act in order to pre-empt expected periods of high usage, which means that “they can slow down traffic at any time, not just during times of actual congestion.”

The next step for the legislation will see it passed on to the The Body of European Regulators (BEREC), to issue guidelines for national regulators.

EDRi, a digital rights group opposed to the legislation, says it will work with the BEREC in the coming months to make sure the ambiguities around net neutrality are clarified.

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