Net neutrality: four things to know about new rules being voted on

Net neutrality is crucial to the future development of the internet. It is the principle that all online traffic should be treated equally, regardless of the type of content or platforms involved. On 27 October MEPs are set to debate and vote on new rules on net neutrality, following an agreement reached with EU governments after two years of negotiations. Ahead of the vote, find out what it is all about.

Net neutrality illustration photo ©AP images/European Union - EP
MEPs will vote on new rules affecting net neutrality ©AP images/European Union - EP

About net neutrality


Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should treat all online content, sites and platforms equally, for instance without blocking or slowing down specific websites or services on purpose. However, critics say the term is not defined clearly enough in the regulation on the European single market for electronic communications, which MEPs are due to vote on during the plenary session in Strasbourg next week.

In June Parliament and the Council reached an informal deal on the draft regulation - the so-called telecom package - which includes guaranteeing net neutrality.

Specialised services


The draft regulation foresees that in addition to the "open" internet, specialised services can be offered to both end-users and companies willing to pay more to gain priority in online traffic. However, the draft regulation guarantees that these pay-for-priority services cannot not be offered if they restrict bandwidth and speed for everyday internet users and websites. Priority in online traffic will be given to matters such as sensitive healthcare data, remote surgery, driverless cars and preventing terrorist attacks.

Zero rating


Zero rating is a commercial practice of some internet access providers, especially mobile operators, to not measure the data volume of particular applications or services when calculating their customers' data usage. This means that these websites or services are effectively provided for free to customers, to the detriment of all other websites or services. Parliament intends to allow national regulators, overseeing the implementation of the draft regulation, to decide whether zero rating will be applied in their country or not.


Next steps


If approved next week, the draft regulation would immediately enter into force in all member states. Six months after that, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications would issue general guidelines for national regulators, responsible for overseeing the implementation.

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