Is the European Union about to cave to Big Telecom’s slow lane plan?

Posted by Josh Tabish on Tue, 06/30/2015 - 13:52

According to new reports, it appears as though top European Union decision-makers are about to enable a dangerous plan desired by Big Telecom providers that would effectively force many of our favourite websites into a slow lane online. And don't be fooled by stories saying anything else – these rules are bad news for Internet users.

The new rules will allow deep-pocketed media conglomerates to create “specialized” channels that will dwarf the speeds the vast majority of the websites, services, and apps that we love and rely on – leaving them in the dust. There’s no doubt such a move will badly hurt innovation, creativity, and freedom of expression online.

As it stands right now, these rules would, in effect, destroy the Internet as an open playing field in the EU by undermining the principle of “Net Neutrality.” This is nothing less than a full out assault on the open Internet in Europe, and will impact millions more who rely on EU-based websites and services in their daily lives. The draft rules–as described by the European Commission–present three major threats:

  • Enabling Slow Lanes Online: First, websites unable to pay for an expensive “specialized channel” would be forced into a slow lane online. Specialized channels are fine for things like medical services, but the new EU rules are frustratingly vague about what else could count, creating a situation that’s ripe for abuse by Big Telecom conglomerates, and should be of huge concern to Internet advocates everywhere.

  • Allowing Big Telecom to Make Competing Apps and Services More Expensive: Mobile providers would gain huge gatekeeper powers, and could abuse them to make services you love more expensive on their network – while simultaneously giving the services they hand-select unfair pricing advantages. This controversial service is known as “zero-rating”, and is something we’ve raised concerns about in Canada (here and here) and abroad over Facebook’s fake Internet service Internet[dot]org.

In addition, it also allows Big Telecom providers continue to be the gatekeepers of key digital infrastructure in Europe. Right now, major EU telecom providers have unfair control of key wireless infrastructure crucial to keeping Europeans connected. The EU has a great chance to fix this, and create a level playing field for new innovative providers across its member states that could help improve choice and drive down costs. But, as it stands now, it looks like they blew it. As Glyn Moody writes, “Once more, the main benefactors are the established telecoms companies that can use their entrenched positions to throttle competition.”

It’s disconcerting to see the EU apparently adopting such a wrong-headed approach – especially after the United States recently passed the strongest rules possible for their 300+ million citizens.  

However, all is not necessarily lost: as our friends at EDRi note, we should expect updates in the coming days and weeks that will help clarify exactly how bad this is for open Internet advocates everywhere. Further, there are still a number of significant legislative hurdles that need to pass before the rules get any further traction - including approval by the member states and by the full European Parliament.

But in the meantime, this doesn’t look good. If you’re in the E.U. and reading this, please take a second and message key decision-makers as soon as possible using the tools at

Tell them NOW: European citizens demand nothing less than the strongest rules possible to stop the Internet slow lane, and demand full, real, net neutrality.