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EU net neutrality: Don’t worry, we’re now safely in the hands of … Latvia

Talk of 'compromise' makes telcos happy. Euro Parliament, not so much

EU member states will push for a “compromise” on net neutrality over the next six months, after Latvia, which took over the six-month rolling presidency of the European Council of Ministers last week, published its list of priorities for the first half of this year.

Notably, it says it will seek “an overall compromise” on the so-called telecommunications package. Such language has raised warning flags from net neutrality advocates.

The law, pushed by ex-digi tsar Steelie Neelie Kroes, is a sprawling piece of legislation covering telecoms companies regulation, coordination of the use of radio spectrum, roaming charges, and yep, you guessed it, net neutrality.

The draft of the law passed by the Parliament in April significantly strengthened net neutrality rules, but at its last meeting of national ministers in November, the Council appeared to be moving the opposite direction.

“When I read the Council suggesting a compromise on the telecoms package, I get concerned," Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake told El Reg.

"The Council has been dragging its feet, and all proposals we have seen weaken the European Parliament's ambitions for the date by which roaming costs are eliminated, and weaken our clear definitions of net neutrality," she added.

"We need efforts by the Council to be ambitious and to deliver for European citizens. If the EU can not create a telecoms single market, then any plans for a digital single market, which is more complex, will be empty words,” she said.

By contrast telco operators found reasons to be gleeful. “The new Commission has indicated the way forward for future digital policies, which need to be growth-enhancing and strengthen Europe’s digital economy," said ETNO (European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association) spokesman, Alessandro Gropelli.

"We share this view and believe that also on-going legislative proposals should pass the innovation and investment test,” he added.

The new presidency manifesto says it wants to “find a balance between high quality services and a reasonable cost for consumers”, something telcos are likely to read as a thumbs up for so-called 'differentiated' services.

Net neutrality activists see differentiated services as the gateway to a dreaded “two-tier internet”, but it looks as though the writing is already on the wall, from national governments at least. However, the Council could still have a battle with the Parliament on its hands.

In November last year, Barack Obama set a cat among the pigeons in the battle over net neutrality – the principle that ISP and governments should treat all data on the net equally – by issuing a blunt demand that internet access be treated as a public utility in the US. ®

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