Blocking and throttling internet traffic could become illegal in the European Union following a parliamentary vote today.
Members of the European Parliament voted to close loopholes in a proposed law that some believed would have created a two-tier internet. The so-called Telecoms Package originally described "specialised services," which would have allowed ISPs to charge more for more data-intensive content services such as voice over IP and streaming video.
"After months of negotiations, the European Parliament has today adopted my proposal to close the last remaining loopholes in the text, in order to enshrine net neutrality in European law. Today's vote creates safeguards to ensure that players without deep pockets, such as start-ups, hospitals or universities, cannot be pushed out of the market as a result of deals between Internet service providers and content providers to offer faster services at a higher price," said Dutch Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake.
The package also abolishes roaming charges for mobile phone use in the EU, provides for more coordination of spectrum use and adds consumer protection such as plain language contracts and greater rights to switch providers or contracts.
Although many of these proposals were popular with the parliament, the most controversial issue was net neutrality. The final text approved on Thursday defines net neutrality as "the principle according to which all Internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application."
So-called specialised services will still be possible, but only if the network capacity is sufficient to provide them in addition to normal internet access services and they are not to the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services.
However ETNO (the European Telecommunications Network Operators association) warned that the new wording introduced by the Parliament might result in restrictions of users' choice and harm EU businesses.
"The text approved today would introduce far-reaching restrictions on traffic management, which would make an efficient management of the network almost impossible, resulting in a lower quality internet for all," said an ETNO statement.
Mobile operators' trade group GSMA warned that the law might inhibit vendors' ability to invest and innovate.
"For mobile to fulfil its potential, network operators must be able to develop services that meet the needs of consumers and charge different prices for differentiated products," said Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA.
But digital rights campaigners welcomed the new rules. "Holding the open internet hostage in order to help a small number of companies would be dangerous and short-sighted. The freedom of the Internet must be protected," said Joe McNamee, Executive Director of European Digital Rights.
The new law must still be approved by the EU member states.