If you get access to the internet, you should get access to the entire internet. You, and not your internet provider, should get to decide what you do on the internet. Bits of Freedom has been advocating for strong protection of net neutrality in law for nearly a decade now.
Zero rating sounds like a great offer: using an internet service such as Spotify on your mobile phone without the risk of running out of data or paying more. And for the short term, it could be. But if providers offer one or more services at a cheaper price than their competitors or innovative alternative options, users will be pushed to use the zero rated services over other services. This yields an unfair advantage. It takes away the opportunity for competitors and newcomers to compete for users on their own merit.
Bits of Freedom’s fight for net neutrality
On 8 May 2012 The Netherlands adopted crucial legislation to safeguard an open and secure internet in The Netherlands. By that time, Bits of Freedom had been advocating for such legislation for over two years already. The Netherlands was the first country in Europe to legally protect net neutrality. The net neutrality law prohibited internet providers from interfering with the traffic of their users. The law allowed for traffic management in case of congestion and for network security, as long as these measures serve the interests of the internet user.
In addition, the law included an anti-wiretapping provision, restricting internet providers from using invasive wiretapping technologies, such as deep packet inspection (DPI). They may only do so under limited circumstances, or with explicit consent from the user, which the user may withdraw at any time. The use of DPI gained much attention when KPN admitted that it analysed the traffic of its users to gather information on the use of certain apps.
Net neutrality on a European level
Slowly but surely, many in Europe were convinced of the necessity to protect the principle of net neutrality. In September 2013, the European Commission proposed legislation which would have destroyed the open and competitive internet in Europe and would have set a disastrous example on a global level. Subsequently, in April 2014, the European Parliament adopted amendments to overturn the European Commission’s proposal.
In June 2015, negotiations between the EU Council and EU Commission, both opposed to net neutrality, and the European Parliament led to a compromise text. This proposal was adopted by the European Parliament in October 2015. The umbrella organisation of national regulatory authorities (BEREC) published guidelines with its own non-binding interpretation of the Regulation.
T-Mobile Netherlands violates principle of net neutrality
Not long after the new European rules came into force, T-Mobile Netherlands announced a new service where users could listen to a limited number of music streaming services without the risk of running out of data. A practice commonly known as zero rating. This offer is not only an obvious violation of the principle of net neutrality, but also violates the new European rules.
Bits of Freedom therefore submitted an enforcement request to the Dutch Regulatory Authority ACM to act against T-Mobile’s service. The enforcement agency decided not to enforce the rules upon our request. In March 2018, Bits of Freedom decided to appeal this decision and this issue was brought before an administrative court. The case is still pending.