Proposed EU Legislation Could Compromise Net Neutrality

Visitors play "Hearthstone" at the World of Warcraft exhibition stand during the Gamescom 2013 fair in Cologne August 21, 2013. Ina Fassbender/Reuters

The European Commission has proposed laws on telecommunications that could undermine 'net neutrality', allowing service providers to offer access to faster connections to some users, and also disrupt connections at large gatherings such as demonstrations.

Although the proposed law reportedly ensures that there would not be discrimination between internet users, it does allow telecoms companies to vary speeds to make sure networks function smoothly. It also allows for some connections "other than internet access services" to be prioritised. Although these aren't specified, they could be services that connect objects that need access to the internet such as connected cars.

The concept of net neutrality essentially refers to keeping the internet as a level playing field for all users. When certain companies or individuals are given privileged access to faster connections, or are allowed to transmit data to customers without those customers incurring data charges, net neutrality is compromised.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted in favour last week on rules regulating internet provision, which are largely seen as protecting net neutrality, and ruling out some of the provisions in the proposed EU legislation.

The European Commission has sent out the proposed laws on net neutrality to the European Parliament this week, with the Financial Times reporting that the proposals would allow telecoms companies to manage internet traffic to prevent congestion and provide faster internet services to some customers in certain circumstances.

Those circumstances have not been specified according to the BBC, some campaigners are worrying about what they see as "watered down" proposals.

Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda fears the law could come into conflict with the principles of net neutrality.

"It's really going way back on what the parliament agreed last year", she says.

"Given there really was huge public support for having a European net neutrality law that does not allow any discrimination and keeps the internet open I find this extremely worrying."

"There's also really a huge potential for abuse of these provisions in order to restrict the communication of political protestors during a demonstration," she adds.

The section of the proposal that concern Reda reads: "More restrictive traffic management measures affecting certain categories of content, applications or services may be necessary for the purpose of preventing network congestion", citing situations such as sporting events and public demonstrations.

Reda adds: "This is really a democracy issue that we need to have structure that is open to everyone under the same terms. The more net neutrality is eroded, the less we can think of the internet as a public infrastructure that belongs to everybody."

Negotiations will now take place in the European Parliament, and if passed by the European Council and Parliament the legislation will come into effect in June 2016.