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Net Neutrality: Major Setback for Free and Open Internet

Wednesday 28 October 2015, by SIGNIS

Strasbourg, Brussels, October 28th 2015 (La Quadrature du Net, SIGNIS). Net Neutrality is a cornerstone principle of the Internet which guarantees that telecoms operators remain mere transmitters of information and do not discriminate between their users’ communications. It ensures that all users, whatever their resources, can access the same network in its entirety.

This week, the European Parliament voted the Telecommunication Single Market regulation text by 500 votes against 163, hereby ending the negotiations on this matter. Despite numerous citizens’ calls, despite repeated international calls to support the amendments, including the inventor of the World Wide Web in 1989, Professor Tim Berners-Lee’s, this ambiguous text leaves important loopholes and cannot ensure Net Neutrality. Worst, it allows commercial discrimination.

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Tim Berners-Lee

It is a profound disillusion for all those who, throughout the years, battled to ensure Net Neutrality in Europe. Berners-Lee said: "When I designed the World Wide Web, I built it as an open platform to foster collaboration and innovation. The Web evolved into a powerful and ubiquitous platform because I was able to build it on an open network that treated all packets of information equally. This principle of net neutrality has kept the Internet a free and open space since its inception. Since then, the Internet has become the central infrastructure of our time — every sector of our economy and democracy depends on it".

Before 2014’s European elections, MEPs were firm and voted a very positive text to protect Net Neutrality, citizens’ rights and innovation for all. The Council of the EU (that is to say the heads of Member States) and the Commission’s strain, the urge to finish all those years of negotiations and the lack of convictions and sense of common interest lead to choose a spineless consensus: to reach an agreement at all costs and to settle the issue of roaming (a symbolic measure, but only affecting a small portion of EU citizens).

A handful of MEPs have had the courage to defend till the end their positions on Net Neutrality

The adopted text doesn’t include a clear definition of Net Neutrality, leaving non-marginal room for manoeuvre to the European regulator to establish guidelines applicable in Member States. It is thus a text full of uncertainties that will be applied and whose practical modalities will only be established in technical negotiations done behind closed doors, without transparency and with little recourses for citizens. The risk that they leave an open wide way allowing the big telco to abuse their dominant position is high for citizens ‘rights and liberties.

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