While net neutrality may have recently found its way into the Merriam Webster dictionary, it still hasn’t managed to find its way to Europe. Most assumed that the EU would have passed net neutrality protections long before the States, so the FCC beating the EU to the punch surprised more than a few people. That was especially true if you’d been watching some of rhetoric coming out of the EU over the last few years. Like that of former EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes, for example, who urged startups to flock to Europe after Verizon defeated the FCC’s original, wimpy neutrality rules last year:
— Neelie Kroes (@NeelieKroesEU) January 15, 2014
That was then, this is now. The U.S. now has some tough net neutrality rules thanks to a new consumer friendly FCC Boss. Meanwhile, Kroes’ new job is trying to lure startups to The Netherlands, ironically as the net neutrality rules she championed (sometimes inconsistently) remain bogged down in committee at the EU she left behind.
The EU’s net neutrality bill began in 2013 when Kroes introduced a proposal for a Telecoms Single Market (TSM), or a single piece of regulation covering all telecom issues across the EU. That proposal was slowly but surely boiled down to just two major proposals: one aimed at eliminating wireless roaming between EU nations to reduce consumer rates, and one focused on enshrining net neutrality into law. Like initial efforts in the States, however, this proposal was packed with all manner of loopholes pushed for by major telecom carriers, worried their ability to abuse limited last-mile competition would come to an end.
While there has been at least some success at getting net neutrality defined, loopholes have remained, and (like in the States) there’s been a lot of debate over whether zero rating should be included in the final neutrality rules. Many member state governments also worry the net neutrality rules will hinder their ham-fisted ability to try and purge the Internet of its naughty bits using over zealous filters.
While the EU Commission, the EU Parliament, and the Council of the EU have been meeting nearly every week for a “trialogue” to try and hammer the rule wording out, there’s now indications that there’s a very strong push afoot to kill net neutrality rules entirely. A leaked version of the latest “non paper” outlining the Telecoms Single Market regulations (written by the presidency of the Council of the EU) appears to have watered down roaming restrictions, and stripped all reference to net neutrality completely:
“As its name suggests, this “non-document” is just a proposal from the presidency for a meeting of the EU Council, made up of representatives of EU governments, which was held yesterday. However, the fact that every mention of net neutrality was excised from the existing text is a clear indication that there is no interest in protecting it among this group. According to La Quadrature du Net, the presidency has adopted this anti-net neutrality position “as a bargaining chip to get a compromise on roaming, perceived as more consensual, allegedly easier to understand and more marketable to voters.”
In other words, instead of an all-encompassing, consumer and startup friendly telecom regulation package promised by Kroes years ago, the EU’s looking at some relatively wimpy reform that may leave net neutrality left on the cutting room floor. European supporters of net neutrality are obviously annoyed, and are pushing for action ahead of the June 12th Council meeting of Telecommunications ministers. Of course if you’ve followed the net neutrality fight in the States for the last decade, there were countless times where the fight appeared utterly hopeless. So while Kroels ridiculed the States for being neutrality unfriendly a year and a half ago, the U.S. battle is now an example of how seemingly intractable, wealthy and powerful telecom interests really can be defeated.