European net neutrality law clears committee hurdle

The proposal ends roaming charges and permits 'specialized services' by ISPs

A Telecommunication operators are closer to losing lucrative roaming revenue after the European Parliament's industry committee approved a contentious package of legislation Tuesday that also establishes net neutrality.

The committee voted 30-12 with 14 abstentions to approve the Telecoms Single Market package, which includes an end to roaming charges from December 2015 and new rules for ISPs. While it explicitly bans blocking and throttling of Internet traffic, it leaves the door open for "specialized services."

The action moves the legislation along to the European Parliament, which is set to take up the measure on April 3.

"The regulation passed today will also improve coordination of the management of the radio spectrum, which will allow for innovative uses of wireless broadband, protect broadcasting and stop interference when several devices are used close together," said French member of the European Parliament Catherine Trautmann.

"However, net neutrality is a red line, not only for our group but above all for citizens who have made their views clear. We want a binding reference to the principle of net neutrality," she added in a statement.

While consumer groups welcomed the possible end to roaming charges for customers, digital rights groups worried that the proposal could establish a two-tier Internet.

"Specialized services should be limited to services provided by ISPs, such as IPTV, and should not be confused with services on the open Internet, like YouTube or Spotify," said Raegan MacDonald, European policy manager at human rights group Access. "Under the current overly broad definition, industry giants will be able to consolidate their control over the telco market while hampering competition, innovation and freedom of expression in Europe."

Some groups believe that softer rules on net neutrality are a trade-off for telecoms companies for their loss of roaming revenue.

"Today's vote is a sign of the massive lobbying influence of big telecom operators over the European legislative process. The regulation's big loopholes will have to be corrected when the European Parliament casts its final vote in a few weeks," said Miriam Artino, legal and policy analyst at La Quadrature du Net.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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