EU net neutrality guidelines close key 'fast lane' loopholes

Your internet provider can't slow down services it doesn't like.

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Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

When the European Union passed its net neutrality laws in 2015, it left a few big loopholes that many were worried would undermine the rules. Would your internet provider have free rein to exempt its own services from data caps, for example, or slow down competing services? You might not have to worry quite so much. The EU's electronic communications regulators have posted guidelines that, for the most part, rule out the potential abuses that came from the laws' vague wording.

To begin with, your ISP can't block or slow down any internet traffic "except where necessary," such as when the network is bogging down or a legal order requires it. They also can't exempt services from data caps in situations where service is either blocked or throttled at the limit, and even caps with overages may be a concern if officials believe the exemptions are sincerely anti-competitive.

And those fears that providers would be allowed to prioritize what they want as "specialized services?" They're somewhat overblown. The guidelines note that these would be services on networks that aren't connected to the internet, such as some forms of linear IPTV, remote surgery and voice calls over LTE.

This doesn't mean that net neutrality regulation is now airtight. Will ISPs try to cheat in subtler ways, such as exempting just enough from caps to avoid raising alarm bells? Even if they do, though, it's clear that the EU isn't implementing a "net neutrality lite" that can easily be defeated.

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