The European Parliament has backed a net neutrality bill which would prevent internet service providers from charging website operators for the delivery of their services to internet users.
The bill comes just months after the principle of net neutrality – the agreement that all internet traffic should be treated equally and not on a priority basis – was dealt a severe blow in the US when Verizon successfully argued for ISPs’ right to charge content providers.
The ruling meant that internet giants such as Netflix, Google and Facebook can now pay to have the speed of their content delivery prioritised ahead of other traffic, prompting concerns that any commercial race would leave the majority of internet websites unable to compete.
If the EU bill is passed – it still needs approval from Europe’s Council of Ministers – it would enshrine the net neutrality principle in law and prevent ISPs from altering the current system. It would also stop ISPs and mobile networks from blocking services that compete with their own.
European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes, who authored the bill, said the 534-25 vote was "historic", but a joint statement from four trade bodies representing cable and telecom operators criticised the draft EU legislation for its “very restrictive views” on how the internet should work and how services with “enhanced quality” can be offered.
However, streaming giants such as Netflix have condemned the changes already in effect in the US. While admitting Netflix is now paying US cable company Comcast to ensure customers’ streaming quality is not affected, CEO Reed Hastings recently blasted the US ruling.
“Some big ISPs are extracting a toll because they can – they effectively control access to millions of consumers and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay,” he wrote in a blog post.
“Though they have the scale and power to do this, they should realise it is in their long term interest to back strong net neutrality. While in the short term Netflix will in cases reluctantly pay large ISPs to ensure a high quality member experience, we will continue to fight for the internet the world needs and deserves.”
Imposing costs on website operators could lead to rising subscriptions for consumers to services like Netflix, Blinkbox or Sky Go, and some analysts have warned that extra costs for internet services providers which have to provide infrastructure to deliver services mean a change to the current system is inevitable.