The European Parliament has today seen a big majority vote in favour of adopting its resolution on Net Neutrality.
It is believed that this move will put pressure on the European Commission and vice president of the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes to regulate on net neutrality and move away from a ‘wait and see' approach.
Net neutrality, which would see every internet packet treated equally regardless of the type of content being transmitted, has been a widely debated topic among regulators and ISPs.
ISPs object to net neutrality, as they see it as being forced to adopt specific traffic management techniques, when it is thought they currently manage their traffic to make best use of available bandwidth, and alternative traffic management requirements might mean they have to spend more money on infrastructure.
The adopted resolution states: "[The European Parliament] calls further on the Commission to ensure that internet service providers do not block, discriminate against, impair or degrade the ability of any person to use a service to access, use, send, post, receive or offer any content, application or service of their choice, irrespective of source or target."
It is not known exactly how many members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the resolution, but those close to the matter suggest the decision was almost unanimous.
This news comes after last month's announcement that the Industry Committee of the European Parliament had adopted the resolution, which was the first indication of the Parliament's stance on the subject.
These discussions are occurring alongside an investigation being carried out by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), which is due to complete by the end of 2011 and aims to establish whether or not further regulation on net neutrality is needed.
Jeremie Zimmermann, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, an influential lobby group that has contributed to discussions being carried out in Parliament, has expressed support for the decision.
"EU telecoms operators already violate net neutrality in large numbers by illegitimately restricting internet access," said Zimmermann. "If Commissioner Neelie Kroes is really committed to defending freedom of expression, as she has claimed in the past, she must act accordingly by imposing net neutrality by law."
"Today's massive vote by the EU Parliament certainly increases the pressure on the Commission to effectively guarantee competition and innovation, as well as citizens' freedom of expression and privacy online," he added.
Ryan Heath, spokesperson for the office of Kroes, disagrees with La Quadrature du Net's statement that the European Commission goes against the European Parliament's stance on net neutrality.
"We do not share the view that the European Parliament's net neutrality resolution contradicts the Commission's approach. The resolution calls on the Commission to monitor the development of traffic management and ensure the consistent application and enforcement of the existing EU rules, and assess whether further regulatory measures are needed in the light of BEREC's fact-finding investigation," said Heath.
"This is exactly what the Commission is doing. The Commission is monitoring the development of traffic management. This work is currently ongoing. The Commission noted in its communication on net neutrality that if significant and persistent problems are substantiated, the Commission will assess the need for more stringent measures to achieve competition and the choice consumers deserve," he added.
There are also some in the industry that believe that by regulating on net neutrality and putting the onus on ISPs to provide a neutral service, investment in the internet more generally will be affected.
"Everyone wants a faster internet at a lower cost. And there is an obvious argument around protecting the principles of the net neutrality law, in terms of driving innovation. The problem here is that consumers are used to getting more for less, yet a significant amount of private investment is required to keep the internet operating at the right level and quality, and this can't be ignored," said Lee Myall, director at communications company Interoute.
"As the debate around internet access continues to divide at the highest level, all eyes will now be on how traffic is managed by ISPs. It is this group that is best placed to manage the traffic on the internet and ensure that consumers get a quality experience. But to achieve this, different traffic needs different rules – for example, video must have priority over data – which in essence creates a multi-speed internet," Myall said.
"Added to this, is the need for investment to ensure the network infrastructure is fit to carry the huge increase in traffic that consumers are demanding. The risk now is that imposing net neutrality will restrict the internet investment and ultimately affect quality," he warned.
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