After prolonged negotiations, EU authorities have finally agreed on laws that will ban roaming charges and enshrine the concept of net neutrality into our legislative systems.
The European Council, Commission and Parliament have finally reached a deal, after early indications of problems and vastly dissenting opinions on what direction this new legislation should take. Finally, a single telecom market – a project that the EU has been trying to implement for years – will, to some degree, become reality in the next couple of years.
The new regulatory framework still has to become law in the Union’s 28 member states but the agreement between authorities comes down to this:
- Roaming fees will be abolished on 15 June 2017
- Net neutrality will become law for a free and open internet across the Union
Unfortunately, while both of those points are to be celebrated, there are important caveats that come with these decisions. Both sides at the negotiations, embodied by the Council on the side of industry and the Commission and Parliament on the side of the people, have had to make big compromises.
One example is that the roaming fees are being abolished in 2017, years later than originally planned and with a grace period of one year beforehand: between April 2016 and June 2017 roaming charges will still be allowed but there will be a strict cap on them.
Meanwhile on the net neutrality side, advocates will say this just barely qualifies as an acceptable deal, mainly because of the exceptions set in the rules. Companies will still be allowed to impose “reasonable traffic management measures” such as blocking or throttling in “a limited number of circumstance, for instance to counter cyber-attacks and prevent traffic congestion [emphasis added]". ISPs will still have to ensure “the general quality of internet access services” though. Since those terms are so vague, some fear this will just be a slippery slope, where ISPs will end up imposing anti-net neutrality measures and degrade everyone’s experience.
Still, despite all of that, this is a step forward, albeit a much smaller one than many had hoped for. Having net neutrality enshrined in law, even in this form, is better than not having it at all. Meanwhile roaming charges, despite staying around for a couple more years, will finally be gone afterwards leading to a better, cheaper access for users across the Union.
Now all that remains is for the 28 countries to ratify this agreement.