Europe needs John Oliver on net neutrality

Regulators move ahead with plan to allow paid prioritization of web services – cue the protests.

john oliver, net neutrality

John Oliver and Net Neutrality:

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European telecommunications took one step forward this week and two steps back with a decision by regulators to ban roaming fees and kill net neutrality. The first is likely to stick; the second, not so much.

Officials on Tuesday voted to lower roaming charges across the 28-member European Union starting next year, with a full ban to take effect in 2018.

Wireless carriers including Britain’s Vodafone – which current Rogers chief executive Guy Laurence used to run – and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom fiercely opposed the move, which spurred the second ruling on net neutrality.

The appeasement of sorts will allow wireless and broadband providers to potentially introduce paid prioritization, where they will be able to charge internet services and applications extra for faster connections to end users.

Netflix or YouTube, for example, would have to pay ISPs more to deliver their video to subscribers faster than other services that weren’t paying, or that couldn’t.

Both decisions are surprising to North American sensitivities. On the roaming front, the thought of paying no roaming fees whatsoever rather than sky-high rates whenever crossing over a border is a seemingly alien idea.

The ban is a highly progressive move by European regulators, who say it will help spur usage of mobile services across the region.

“Paid prioritization,” meanwhile, is something of a dirty term that has been banished by strong net neutrality rules both in Canada and the United States. Regulators in both countries came to the sensible conclusions that allowing fast and slow lanes on the internet would harm innovation, and they rightfully took steps to prevent such a reality from emerging.

That European regulators would choose to open that can of worms is highly surprising, especially given that it was a Briton – comedian John Oliver – who changed the course of the net neutrality discussion in the United States with his now legendary rant on the topic:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission was earlier this year going down much the same road as the EU is now, but Oliver’s take spurred nearly four million comments urging a rethink – the most the regulator had ever received on any topic. It was enough to force President Barack Obama to chime in and, ultimately, for the FCC to reverse course.

Indian regulators similarly this year proposed allowing anti-net neutrality provisions such as paid prioritization and zero rating, or the exemption of certain internet uses from data usage caps. They met with the same protests from individuals and businesses, and mockery from comedians:

Like the FCC, Indian authorities are now reportedly changing their minds because of the outcry. The country’s Department of Telecom is now looking to ban paid prioritization and zero rating.

You have to hand it to European regulators for exhibiting a surprising level of tone deafness on the issue, given what’s happened nearly everywhere else. The question isn’t when the protests will begin, but rather how soon.

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