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European Union Votes to Uphold Net Neutrality, Abolish Data Roaming Charges

3 Apr, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Decisions seen as big win for subscription streaming pioneer Netflix

The European Union parliament April 3 approved legislation upholding net neutrality by prohibiting Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down selected streaming services for economic reasons. It also voted to eliminate roaming charges for voice, SMS and data on mobile phones used in a EU country, effective Dec. 15, 2015.

The moves represent a huge win for Netflix and other subscription streaming services that rely on third-party ISPs to deliver their content to subscribers in the home and on portable devices.

Netflix, which has operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Holland and Scandinavia, is expected to bow service in France (and possibly Germany) by the end of the year.

The EU action is a complete reversal from the United States, where a federal appeals court in January struck down provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet rules that mandated all Internet traffic be treated equally.

That ruling, coupled with Netflix burgeoning bandwidth use, prompted the SVOD leader to strike a deal in February with Comcast ensuring its video data be delivered as smoothly as possible to subscribers.

Since then, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has taken to social media all but calling the arrangement extortion on behalf of ISPs, which he said control the last mile of broadband distribution into consumers’ homes. Hasting is calling on the federal government to enact tougher rules safeguarding net neutrality.

In Europe, the EU’s vote is heralded as a win for consumers.

“We have achieved further guarantees to maintain the openness of the Internet by ensuring that users can run and provide applications and services of their choice as well as reinforcing the Internet as a key driver of competitiveness, economic growth, jobs, social development and innovation,” Spain’s Pilar del Castillo Vera, author of the legislation, said in a statement.

ISPs would still be able to offer specialized services of higher quality, such as video-on-demand and business-critical data-intensive “cloud” (data storage) applications, so long as these services are not supplied to "the detriment of the availability or quality of Internet access services" offered to other companies or service suppliers.

In other words, if Comcast operated in Europe it would not be able to extract higher fees from Netflix without proving just cause.

Indeed, the EU shortened the list of acceptable reasons an ISP could still be entitled to block or slow down data streams. It said such practices could be permitted only to enforce a court order, preserve network security or prevent temporary network congestion. If such "traffic management measures" are used, they must be "transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate" and "not be maintained longer than necessary,” the EU ruled.

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