The European Parliament has passed new rules on net neutrality

Published: 3 November 2015

Following two years of negotiations, in October the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union reached an agreement on the final text of the Regulation on the Single Telecommunications Market, abolishing the excessively high roaming charges and introducing detailed rules on net neutrality, which was previously defined only as a principle.

The new legislative text states that access to the Internet “must be provided in compliance with the principle of Internet neutrality”. From now on, net neutrality will not only be a basic principle of the telecommunications market but will also be regulated with guarantees, in line with the principle of legal certainty. All on-line data transmission must be handled equally, free of any discrimination or limitation. According to the new rules telecommunications providers cannot slow down or restrict contents, services or applications. Open Internet data traffic may not be discriminated even for the sake of special services. The national regulatory authority, NMHH, closely monitors and ensures compliance with the new rules and will send reports to BEREC and the Commission annually. BEREC will elaborate the guidelines for supervision within 9 months from the entry into force of the Regulation.

New regulation on net neutrality

End users have the right to have access or distribute information and contents selected by them through their Internet access service, irrespective of their place or purpose. Service providers may restrict traffic only proportionately and only for the period required, but it cannot be based on any commercial or technical consideration and no preference can be given to certain contents.

Service providers may introduce temporary traffic restrictions in three cases: to comply with a statutory obligation, based on a resolution of a court or public administration agency (e.g., illegal content, criminal investigation, national security) in order to preserve the integrity and security of the network (e.g., cyber attack, spy programs, protection of personal data), and in order to prevent imminent network congestion or to reduce the impact of an actual congestion. Equal treatment must still be applied and identical types of traffic must be treated identically.

Special Internet services

The principle of net neutrality does not exclude special services. Such a service includes e.g., control of self-driving cars in the motor industry, certain medical applications (remote operation, imaging procedures), and video services available on smart TV. Higher quality and dedicated bandwidth are essential components of special services. However, this does not mean any restriction or slowing of data traffic for users of contents and services accessible through traditional Internet access. It is a new feature in the regulation that special services may be provided only when they do not detrimentally influence the quality of the Internet access services. The regulation renders it into the competence of the national regulatory authorities to control compliance with that requirement.

The Regulation imposes an obligation to the service providers to clearly specify the potential impacts of traffic regulation measures, the impacts of special services on Internet access services and the actual speed of access in their contracts. If the actual speed significantly, continuously or repeatedly differs from the speed undertaken in the subscription contract, it will be deemed defective performance. The end user can seek consumer type legal remedy for it (e.g., termination of the contract). In addition, when a service provider does not comply with the requirements of the Regulation, the regulatory authority may impose a sanction and oblige the service provider to terminate the infringing conduct.

The principle of net neutrality

On the Internet all data must be treated equally; no distinction may be made between various services; no application or content may be blocked or slowed down irrespective of who the sender or the recipient are.