Net neutrality is the principle under which Internet access providers carry data without discrimination on the basis of origin, destination or type of data. This means that net neutrality prohibits telecoms operators from blocking or degrading content, applications or services.
Net neutrality guarantees your freedom online to access and distribute the information you want.This founding principle ensures the openness, innovation, competition and diversity of the Internet.
Without net neutrality…
You would pay more for less Internet and your Internet provider would become a gatekeeper between you and the online services and applications that you like.
New cool new websites and inventions would not be as fast and accessible as the big, incumbent US websites. They might not even survive long enough to become popular.
The economy and start-ups would suffer it. With net neutrality, everybody can invent a new service without asking for permission and benefit from a global, neutral infrastructure from day one. If we lose this freedom, we lose much of the huge economic success of the digital economy and our freedom to choose as consumers and communicate as citizens.
The Internet would be slower. Studies have shown that if Internet providers were allowed to sell a competitive advantage to a few websites, they would have an incentive to make the rest of the Internet slower for everybody else. Even when it looks like you are getting something cheap in reality you have fewer options and a smaller download limit left for using the real Internet.
Many of the NGOs behind this campaign have fought for net neutrality as early as 2008. As the debate unfolded, we saw more and more violations of the principle of net neutrality in the Internet. When the US telecoms regulator FCC released its first Internet order to protect the fixed-line Internet against some forms of network discrimination, this was a big success for net neutrality. Subsequently, other countries adopted legislation and regulatory decisions to safeguard net neutrality. This is the case of, for example, Chile, the Netherlands, Slovenia, India and Canada.
In the European Union the debate progressed very slowly. We had to wait until 11 September 2013 to have a proposal for having a European law on net neutrality. This proposal was made by the European Commission.
The 2013 proposal contained several problematic loopholes that would have allowed Internet providers to circumvent net neutrality. For instance, through a provision on “specialised services”, ISPs would have been allowed to offer discriminatory prioritised access. The proposal would also have allowed for discriminatory blocking of websites, applications, and content — a threat to the rule of law and freedom of expression.
Fortunately, the European Parliament worked hard to close these loopholes and voted in favour of clear and binding rules for net neutrality on 3 April 2014. Although things looked grim at first, your efforts with SaveTheInternet helped the Parliament adopt a text with strong net neutrality safeguards. This vote was applauded by millions of people around the world.
After this victory, the EU Member States gathered in the Council and progressed slowly, taking over a year to come up with a joint position. They agreed on a new text that re-introduced loopholes and created new ones. If adopted, the Council’s text would have created paid fast-lanes; allowed price discrimination in the EU, and authorised illegal and arbitrary blocking of lawful content.
In order to advance the talks and undermine the Parliament’s position, the three institutions began “informal” negotiations within the so called “trilogue” process. In a late night session around 2 am, a political agreement was reached between the three institutions. This text contains strong principles to deliver net neutrality in Europe. However, certain provisions of the Regulation are not clear and could be abused (which was better than the Commission’s initial proposal but worse than the Parliament’s initial position). This may lead to loopholes that would allow discrimination on the Internet. Amendments in the 2nd reading vote in the European Parliament tried to bring clarity. However, the Regulation also deals with the elimination of the roaming charges, which, together with the fact that an absolute majority of all Parliamentarians was needed to change the agreed text, meant that none of the amendments were adopted. In other words, the European Parliament decided that the regulators should be the ones deciding on the uncertainties of the text.
Right now, the regulators are being heavily lobbied by the telecom industries that want to keep and expand their discriminatory business models; and equipment manufacturers, which want to sell more network equipment that carry out the surveillance of data traffic that makes this possible.
On the pro-net neutrality side, you have mostly civil society and consumer organisations as well as start-ups, public broadcasters, libraries and universities.
But the deciding factor in most net neutrality debates is the general public, you, in other words. If enough people engage in the debate, we can outnumber anti-net neutrality lobby, we can make the good arguments heard and win.
SaveTheInternet is the joint campaign of 23 European NGOs that work to protect civil liberties on the Internet. This campaign was built to connect people with policy makers in the preparation of the EU Regulation on net neutrality. This campaign was launched at the 30c3 conference in December 2012 and has been updated ever since to follow the legislative and regulatory process.
If you are part of an organisation and want to become a supporter or help spread the word, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A specialised service is any service provided over the Internet access connection that is given additional quality by the Internet access provider. Under the Regulation, any such optimisation must be objectively necessary for the electronic service being accessed and not simply granting priority to the service. The access provider must also ensure that there is enough capacity on the network so that the quality of Internet access is not undermined. This necessity should be verified by the national telecommunications regulatory authority. In short, a “specialised service” cannot be a discriminatory “fast lane”.
Real specialised services have nothing to do with the Internet. They are services that may use the same technology and sometimes even the same physical architecture, but they are not part of the global Internet because they require a level of quality which could not be offered by the Internet.
Specialised services are not services which could be provided on the Internet. The problem to be avoided is allowing existing online services to be reclassified as specialised services. Under such a scenario, a company with enough money could buy priority for their services, which would give them an unfair advantage ahead everyone else – reducing competition, innovation and choice..
The Regulation establishes five safeguards for the provision of specialised services:
Specialised services cannot be used to circumvent provisions regarding traffic management measures. ISPs cannot give priority to specialised services over comparable content, applications or services available via Internet Access Services;
Specialised services have to be optimised to assure specific quality of service requirements of the content, application or service, which are necessary for key functionalities of the content, application or service in question;
Specialised services shall not be usable or offered as a replacement for Internet Access Services;
Specialised services can only be offered if sufficient network capacity is available to offer them in addition to any Internet Access Service provided;
Specialised services cannot be provided in detriment of the availability or general quality of Internet Access Services.
New specialised services have to be tested against all five safeguards by the regulator before they can be introduced into the market. If they are only tested after somebody complains, it can sometimes take years before discriminatory products that are later found to be illegal are removed. It is a common strategy of anti-competitive telcoms operators to use the slowness and expense of courts and regulators to kill off innovative competitors.
The optimisation of a specialised service has to be objectively necessary for the functionality of the service and not just a convenient advantage over competitors. If a comparable service exists in the open Internet, then a specialised service should not be granted.
Traffic management allows ISPs to manage data traffic on their networks. To do so, ISPs can give priority to certain communications and slow down some others. Under the Regulation, this practice is allowed if it is reasonable, transparent, non discriminatory and proportionate. Traffic management must be temporary and, therefore, not a standard part of network configuration. Also, as general rule, traffic management shall treat all applications equally and it can differentiate among different categories of traffic only under in very limited circumstances.
Traffic management affects your everyday Internet experience. When your Netflix video is endlessly buffering, your Internet-Telephony call is breaking off or an online game is unplayable, traffic management by your Internet provider can be the cause.
If the EU rules are abused, the online services you want to use could be slowed down to the level that they become unusable while other competing services promoted by your own Internet provider could still work properly.
Traffic management should never interfere with your freedom as an end-user or online service provider. The role of an Internet provider is to manage the network for all services to the best of his its abilities, but not to make decisions about the importance, integrity and legality of the Internet content, services or applications you want to access.
Of course internet providers should be allowed to manage their networks. However, this needs to be done in a way that makes no distinction on the basis of the content, application and services being used by you or other internet users. This is feasible and supported by detailed analysis.
The alternative is for the Internet provider to classify data packages based on criteria that it establishes, leading to some applications being slowed down and others speeded up. This can be on the basis of technical requiements of the service (time sensitivity, jitter sensitivity) or the functionality the service offers to the user (telephony, video-streaming, music-streaming, gaming, etc.). This second approach is called class-based traffic management. As encrypted data traffic cannot be classified, one of the risks of this approach is that such data is automatically put in a “slow lane” (unless it come from a big provider, where the type of data can be guessed). Disincentivising encryption is clearly bad for privacy, while slowing down encrypted data from small providers is anti-competitive.
We can therefore say that class-based traffic management measures are:
less transparent than application-agnostic measures, because the end users do not know how their particular content and the services they use will be classified;
more discriminatory than application-agnostic measures, because they risk misclassifying applications, discriminate against encrypted traffic and allow for anti-competitive behaviour;
less proportionate than application-agnostic measures, because it is always less intrusive and better for user choice.
The Regulation gives a clear threefold hierarchy on traffic management that has to be enshrined in clear and binding rules see Article 3(3) subparagraphs 1 to 3. The Internet provider always has to try to solve a problem in its network first with application-agnostic measures, i.e. measures that do not depend on the specific characteristics of content, applications, services or devices. If application-agnostic measures are exhausted and the problem could not be resolved in this way, Internet providers are permitted to resort to class-based measures.
Traffic management is necessary to resolve congestion and ensure the integrity and security of the network. But, like surveillance, traffic management should only use the least intrusive measures available, only for a specific purpose and a for limited time when it is genuinely necessary to achieve a legitimate goal.
According to the Regulation, Internet providers can either start to manage their network in an actual case of congestion or in cases where they are seeking to mitigate congestion that is about to materialise. This second option should be clarified by the regulators to avoid a slippery slope situation where the network is “managed” all the time, even when there is no actual need for it.
We argue that this second option should only be allowed in cases where there are other indicators besides the amount of traffic flowing through any given network hub (like the amount of subscribers connected to one network cell). There always needs to be a concrete and actual need for traffic management.
Zero rating is a commercial practice, for which data downloaded from certain applications or services is not counted towards a subscriber’s monthly download limit. Zero rating treats different traffic in different ways, in order for some to be offered at one price and some to be offered at a different price. Although technically different from classic net neutrality violations, it is identical, practically speaking, as it allows the Internet access provider to influence what applications and services are used and which are not.
With this practice, your Internet provider can exercise control over the services that you use or will use. Every competitor to a zero-rated application or service (mainly start-ups and SMEs) is at a great disadvantage because you have to pay extra to be able to use the application or service unhindered.
Zero rating is a major reason for low data caps (data caps are data upload or download limits). Internet providers want you to use their own online services or their partner services. If providers are allowed to exempt these selected services from your data cap, they have a reason to keep this cap intact and relatively low so their competitive advantage stays strong. Without zero rating, these companies could be offering you more data volume that you can use and you would be able to freely decide how to use it. There are well documented cases in the Netherlands and in Slovenia where, thanks to strong net neutrality laws prohibiting zero rating, mobile operators doubled the data caps of their users.
At first sight, it looks as if you’d get something for free. Contrary to appearances, your freedom of choice in the Internet is restricted and your Internet provider establishes itself as a gatekeeper. In the case of Facebook’s Free Basics programme, for example, why should Facebook decide which services and apps you can use? What is the economic incentive for Facebook to offer this? Is this really for free? The answer is no. Nothing is for free. Zero rating has implications for your security, privacy and for a competitive market.
Zero rating agreements in Europe are almost always with big Internet companies like Facebook and Spotify. These deals are often mutually exclusive, which means that the content provider is binding itself to one operator in a country and vice-versa.
Zero rating is bad for user choice because it is devastating for the online economy. It only helps big companies to cement their market position and kill off their competition. We already see this in the music streaming market, for example, where the freedom of choice for consumers has been greatly reduced by such exclusive zero rating offers.
Instead of simply selling Internet access, Internet providers increasingly want to sell you directly online content, applications and services provided either by them or their partners. By inserting themselves as middle-men, Internet providers want to get paid twice. First, you pay them for your Internet connection. Second, content, services and apps providers pay them for getting access to their customer base, which includes you.
Zero rating is a clear violation of the net neutrality rules and therefore needs to be prohibited. This practice is anti-competitive and violates your freedom to use and access the applications, services and content you want and the freedom of content and application providers to make their offer in all networks without restriction (as required by Article 3(1) of the EU Regulation). The EU Regulation also bans Internet and content providers from offering services that limit your rights as an end-user or as a content provider (cf. Article 3(2) of the Regulation).
If data caps are exceeded and certain zero rated services are still accessible while the rest of the Internet is blocked or throttled, this is a clear violation of other provisions of the Regulation delivering net neutrality.
There are many benefits that we have under the EU Regulation on net neutrality. In terms of transparency, one of them is the requirement for Internet providers to state in their contracts what the minimum, average and maximum bandwidth of any Internet access connection is, instead of just the theoretical maximum. The Committee of the European telecom regulators (BEREC) will have to clarify how these values are calculated and what should happen if a connection is shared between more than one user.
The Regulation requires Internet providers to provide information about all traffic management measures that affect a user’s Internet access. Regulators are now seeking for input on what this means in practice.
There are strong net neutrality rules in the USA, Canada, and Chile. The most recent example is India, which has recently adopted strong rules on zero-rating. For more detailed approach visit This Is Net Neutrality
Other countries are running a SaveTheInternet campaign. These are some examples:
You can help SaveTheInternet.eu in many ways:
Spread the word! Tell your friends this campaign, about net neutrality and about why it is important to act now. Only when many individuals voices speak out will we be able to protect our online rights and freedoms.
Translate the website into your language! You can do that via Save The Internet on Github.
Join us! If you are part of an organisation and would like to join SaveTheInternet.eu, please contact us at email@example.com.
Report violations of net neutrality through Respect My Net.
Do you have any other cool and creative ideas? Please reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org.