The European Parliament officially gave the green light to rules governing internet traffic and mobile roaming contracts on Tuesday — member states approved the regulations this summer — much to the chagrin of many a net neutrality proponent and probably most European telcos. While the new legislation does in fact prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or blocking web traffic arbitrarily, it’s the exceptions to the rules that are bothersome to many in the tech world and internet activists.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the law allows operators to enter into agreements that ensure a minimum web quality for special services such as video conferencing or surgery. But those services cannot impede internet access for other users. Blocking or restricting traffic would be allowed in some cases such as trying to counter cyber attacks or ease the flow of traffic. These exceptions are seen as ways for ISPs to do precisely the opposite of what the measures intend to prohibit and allow higher-paying content providers to have better access to users in the form of “fast lanes.” The Parliament voted down amendments to these rules that had been on the table since June when the measures were initially approved (some of them for the umpteenth time). Gizmodo says that these new net neutrality rules include “dangerous loopholes.”
The rules are seen as too lax by net neutrality proponents, many of whom are looking to the U.S. where stricter net neutrality rules have been proposed. But there is heavy opposition on both continents to any net neutrality from big ISPs, naturally, as their business operations are restricted by such law in any case. And big telcos in Europe are likely complaining about another measure Parliament finally locked into law: the abolishing of roaming charges, to come in June 2017.
The E.U. has mulled that measure for years, settling on a date only to push it a few times. And the complaint from the telecom industry now is that abolishing roaming charges will dampen business, forcing telcos to find other means to supplant that lost revenue. But some believe that the end of roaming charges will actually bring new innovation to market. Mikael Schachne, VP of Mobile Data Business for BICS, a wholesale carrier that provides global voice and mobile data services, says that his company has noticed an uptick in data roaming over the last year, and that it “demonstrates a strong appetite for data usage while traveling abroad, something that the industry can capitalize on by developing new business models and data plans that cater for the demands of this new breed of customer.”
He points out that — forced to turn to alternative forms of income — those in telecom might look to launching “roaming only” pan-E.U. mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).
The changes in legislation has the potential to transform the “market landscape, ushering in a new era of innovation and collaboration from all parties in the ecosystem, including the launch of new ‘roaming only’ pan-EU MVNOs,” he said. The reduction in roaming charges and the introduction of tariffs in some markets has already led to a boom in 3G and 4G usage abroad. Cross-border data usage could now be a new market waiting to happen as the telecom industry shifts focus.