While the European Union dithers over EU-wide net neutrality, some European countries are marching on regardless. On Friday Slovenia’s regulators nailed carriers Telekom Slovenije and Si.mobil for violating net neutrality principles, and on Tuesday Dutch regulators fined KPN and Vodafone for similar violations.
The latest ruling, by the Dutch consumer protection agency ACM, saw [company]KPN[/company] fined €250,000 ($283,000) and [company]Vodafone[/company] €200,000. KPN was caught for blocking some VoIP services on its free Wi-Fi hotspots, and Vodafone was zero-rating the [company]HBO[/company] Go app – that is, it was providing free traffic for that service in particular, a practise technically known as “positive price discrimination”.
ACM’s statement read in part:
In addition to the ban on blocking, internet providers may also not charge differing tariffs for the use of services and applications on the internet. This contributes to an open internet. An open internet is important for freely disseminating information and increasing choice on the internet.
The Slovenian ruling was also about zero-rating: [company]Telekom Slovenije[/company] has been providing free data for the music streamer [company]Deezer[/company], and [company]Si.mobil[/company] for cloud storage service [company]Hanger Mapa[/company]. Those carriers now have two months to stop breaking the rules.
The European Parliament voted for strong net neutrality rules in April 2014, but since then the legislative process has stalled, largely due to some member states demanding vague principles rather than strictly-defined terms. The European Commission is dead set against this development, so it and the Council of the European Union, which represents the states, are currently negotiating a compromise.
However, even if that legislation’s strong definitions survive, it doesn’t ban zero-rating, which some argue is not a net neutrality issue because users can still access services other than those being zero-rated, even if it means using up their data allowance.
Those who argue that it is a net neutrality issue maintain that it violates the principles because it favors particular services and apps over others. That includes regulators in the Netherlands, Slovenia, Norway (not part of the EU but part of the European Economic Area, where EU net neutrality legislation would apply), and Chile (definitely nowhere near the EU.)
Last week the Latvian Presidency of the Council indicated that proposals to include an explicit ban on zero-rating in the EU-wide net neutrality legislation would not gain enough support among the states. Some had also suggested making selective blocking a self-regulatory matter, but those proposals seem to be sunk as they would conflict with existing EU legislation and fundamental rights.
In other words, the current situation – where zero-rating is banned in some European countries but not others – looks set to continue into the foreseeable future, whether or not a broader ban on blocking and throttling comes into force.