On May 30, 2017, the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs announced government plans to scrap the country's strict net-neutrality rules which are at odds with the EU's rules on the open internet. The decision comes one month after the law was ruled to be invalid by a court in Rotterdam. However, the date for the article's removal from the Telecommunications Act has yet to be decided.
The importance of transparency policies within net-neutrality regulation should not be underestimated
Following the spread of traffic management techniques by service providers, net neutrality has gained considerable prominence around the world and has become a hotly debated topic. Recent EU-wide rules provide probably the most comprehensive framework to date and aim to coordinate the rather fragmented approach adopted by various member states. Before the rules were introduced in 2016, net-neutrality policies had already been in place in many EU countries such as the Netherlands. This has made it challenging for regulators to take appropriate action and has meant the Dutch court ruling in April 2017 to declare national net-neutrality rules as invalid will be seen as pivotal in demonstrating how regulators should tackle the issue in the future in order to avoid disputes arising. The landmark ruling allowed T-Mobile to continue to offer its zero-rated music service in the Netherlands, despite being banned under national law and ensures that the European rules prevail.
The Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs announcement to completely drop the strict interpretation of net-neutrality regulations from the Telecommunications Act is the first occasion that an EU member state has chosen to completely revoke their national law on the matter. This move will eliminate any remaining uncertainty that could arise from the contrasting EU and national regulations. It is likely to lead to several other nations, including Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, to revoke similarly strict laws and previous bans on zero-rating.
With the Dutch ruling hopefully ironing out any challenges regulators faced in interpreting the EU law and aligning it with national laws, the focus will have to turn to ensuring customers understand how the rules could affect them. As highlighted in Ovum's report The Experience in Europe of Implementing Net-Neutrality Rules, transparency is one area in particular that has begun to see greater importance placed on it. This guarantees that customers can understand the terms of the services they receive. Often, maintaining transparency of traffic management policies had been seen as a standalone consumer protection issue by regulators, but its relevance within net-neutrality regulation should not be underestimated. Transparency goes a long way to helping users understand what happens to their internet service when they reach certain usage limits and being able to decide whether to switch provider.
The Experience in Europe of Implementing Net-Neutrality Rules, TE0007-001150 (June 2017)
"Dutch ruling brings about greater clarity and consistency in European approaches to zero-rating," TE0007-001146 (May 2017)
"BEREC finalizes guidelines for net neutrality in Europe," TE0007-001056 (September 2016)
"Swedish regulator will test EU net neutrality rules on zero-rating," TE0007-001022 (May 2016)
Sarah McBride, Analyst, Regulation