Skip to Content

Net neutrality is not for Europe

Opening Day Of Mobile World Congress 2015Opening Day Of Mobile World Congress 2015
Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Höttges looks forward to the freedom to charge more for premium services.Photograph by Pau Barrena — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The European Union is preparing to allow internet providers to run ‘two-speed’ data services, in a sharp contrast to a ruling last week in the U.S. that will enforce ‘net neutrality’.

The Financial Times reported Wednesday that E.U. member states are drawing up proposals that would allow telecoms groups to prioritize certain services to ensure that the network worked properly, in stark contrast to a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that will effectively ban differentiating the speed of services.

The draft reflects, among other things, the greater lobbying power in the E.U. of the big European telecoms companies that run mobile networks, relative to the (largely U.S.) tech companies that fill those networks with ever more data.

The FT noted that, at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the CEOs of both Vodafone Plc (VOD) and Deutsche Telekom AG (DTEGY) both argued for rules that would allow them to give priority to specific ‘essential’ services, like those connected to hospitals or driverless cars.

The proposals, drafted by the Latvian government that currently holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency, still insist on a basic principle of treating all traffic equally, but allow network operators to be “free to enter into agreements” to deliver faster speeds at higher prices.

There’s no guarantee that the proposals will come into force as drafted. E.U. lawmaking is a complicated three-way dance between the presidency, the European Parliament and the European Commission, the union’s secretariat.

European Commissioner Guenter Oettinger said at MWC that he hopes the E.U. will be able to finalize a new law on the subject by the summer. The Commission, as enforcer of the E.U.’s single market, is keen to avoid a situation whereby all 28 states have different rules on regulating Internet speeds.