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Attack on net neutrality: EU Commission remains stubborn

European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

In their response to an open letter sent by 54 Members of the European Parliament to the EU Commission in July, the responsible EU Commissioners Margrethe Vestager and Thierry Breton claim that the potential introduction of access charges for Internet providers would have nothing to do with net neutrality. They announce their intention to pursue the idea.

According to EU Commissioners Vestager and Breton, internet access providers could be allowed to require payments from online platforms in the future. In their letter of protest to the Commission, MEPs had stressed that the Commission’s plans would be a disastrous return to the former telephony market, where telecom companies exploited their monopolies to make communication expensive. “We call on you to adopt a better strategy to promote connectivity in Europe,” the MEPs’ letter said. The signatories included liberal Claudia Gamon, Internal Market Committee (IMCO) chairwoman Anna Cavazzini (Greens/EFA), Tiemo Wölken (S&D), Cornelia Ernst (Die Linke) and Patrick Breyer of the Pirate Party.

MEP Patrick Breyer, one of the initiators of the letter, comments:

“If you want digital corporations to make a fair contribution to the common good, you need to tax them fairly. But an access fee payable to the telecoms industry would mean the end of net neutrality through the back door. This kind of access charge would radically abolish the long-standing internet principle of net neutrality, which requires internet service providers to provide access to all websites, content and applications at the same speed and under the same conditions, without blocking or favouring content. Access charges risk making internet access expensive and slowing down or even cutting off access to essential internet services. Pirates have fought hard for net neutrality and we will not stand by and let this Commission dismantle it.”

Last week, the European body of telecom regulators (BEREC) published an analysis of the telecom industry’s proposals. The verdict of the neutral regulators is scathing: They warn internet providers could in future exploit their termination monopoly at the expense of their customers and endanger the entire internet ecosystem. The costs for network expansion would continue to be borne by the users.

Despite all this criticism, the EU Commission is sticking to its plans to undermine net neutrality. According to media reports, a public consultation on this topic is planned for the Christmas holidays, which would be another attempt to rush the outcome of the debate and prevent stakeholder participation.