European Union: Equal Online Access For All? Net Neutrality Enshrined In The EU

Last Updated: 24 December 2015
Article by Ingrid Silver, Alex Haffner and Anita Sivapalan

The European Parliament recently adopted a new regulation on mobile roaming and the open internet (the Regulation) which comes into effect on 30 April 2016.   The Regulation brings into effect two important changes. Firstly, it will prohibit roaming charges within the EU within the next two years. Secondly,  it crystallises the concept of net neutrality, which we discuss below.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites . Put another way, ISPs cannot pick winners or losers on the internet, or decide which content and services are available.

Net neutrality is a contentious area, particularly since ISPs have developed technological means of managing data and traffic on their networks. Proponents of net neutrality argue that such practices need to be carefully regulated and any discrimination that cannot be justified on objective grounds should be prohibited. By contrast, ISPs and some content owners argue that such discrimination is necessary to ensure the efficient use of the limited bandwidth available in view of increasing consumption of data hungry services such as video downloads/online streaming. 

The global picture

The EU is far from the only territory where the above debate has been raging. For example, in 2011, Chile took the bold step of being the first country to introduce net neutrality regulation. Across the pond in the US, the Federal Communications Commission agreed new "Open Internet rules" in February 2015. Those rules now apply to both ISPs and mobile operators, who are expected to refrain from enabling paid prioritisation, blocking (controlling access to content) and throttling (slowing down internet traffic).

p>Until the passing of the Regulation, the picture in the EU was mixed on net neutrality regulation. Whereas the Netherlands adopted net neutrality legislation in 2012, Member States have generally relied on a self-regulatory approach until now. This includes the UK, where the Broadband Stakeholders group (BSG) comprising most of the major ISPs signed up to an Open Internet Code of Practice (the Code) which was launched in the UK in 2012. This has generally been considered to be successful in promoting increased transparency for consumers and preventing content providers from discriminatory practices, albeit the Code is entirely voluntary.  The BSG recently announced that it was commissioning an independent study into the effectiveness of the Code and its future once the new Regulation comes into force.

The Regulation

In broad terms, the main effect of the Regulation is that net neutrality will be enshrined in EU law. The starting point under the Regulation is that blocking and throttling are illegal so as to permit equal access to content for all EU internet users. This raises questions as to whether, and if so how, ISPs will be able to continue to use traffic management tools in order to give consumers faster access to the content they want to view/download.

This is where things become more uncertain. The general prohibition against discriminatory traffic management is subject to some exceptions, notably:

  • where any measures taken fall within certain defined "public interest" exceptions, notably (i) to comply with legislation relating to the legality of content or court/public authority decisions blocking content, (ii)  to deal with network misuse and/or combat viruses or malware, (iii) to provide filters for spam or content which certain users do not want to receive (e.g. adult content for children);
  • the provision of "specialised services" i.e. services that require a particular quality of access (over and above the general internet access) to guarantee their delivery of certain technical services. Examples given by the European Commission in its guidance notes include services which are widely used already (eg IPTV), but also those likely to increase in their importance such as telemedicine and automated driving. The Regulation sets out a series of conditions for the provision of such services and safeguards to ensure open access to the Internet is not negatively affected. For example, there is a requirement that optimisation is objectively necessary to ensure these services can be provided at reasonable service levels.; 
  • zero rating (or sponsored connectivity) whereby the data volume of particular content is not counted against the user's limited data volume, provided this practice does not circumvent the right of all consumers to access internet content of their choice.

Wherever an ISP intends using one of the exceptions, they will have to demonstrate that they are doing so on a transparent and proportionate basis. Nevertheless, the pro-net neutrality lobby has argued that these exceptions create potential loopholes which can be exploited by those controlling the networks. Doubts have already been expressed, for example, as to whether the permitted exception for specialised services will, in reality, lead to the introduction of "internet fast lanes" for certain favoured content providers.

Under the Regulation, BEREC (the EU-wide body of national telecoms regulators) has been tasked with providing guidelines for the application of the Net Neutrality rules at a national level. Yesterday it announced a series of stakeholder meetings which will, in particular focus on the role and nature of specialised services and how they may relate to the new rules on net neutrality. The final guidelines, when they are published next year, will therefore be of particular importance.

When will the new Regulation take effect?

The Regulation will become a reality for the 28 Member States on 30 April 2016, when the EU will have the most comprehensive approach to open internet in the world. Significantly, as this concept has been enshrined via a regulation, the rules will be immediately directly applicable to all Member States. Unlike a directive, national authorities will not need to do anything further in order to implement the new rules.

What now?

The passing of the Regulation marks the end of a long journey for advocates of net neutrality legislation in the EU. The European Commission strongly believes that these rules will encourage growth and development of the internet industry and improve opportunities to conduct business in the EU. Unrestricted internet access across the EU is a major positive step. It remains to be seen how the rules will operate in practice and, also, how authorities and government agencies in other (non-EU) territories will now react to these growing trends. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
28 Sep 2017, Seminar, London, UK

On 26 July the FCA published its long-expected consultation paper on the extension of the SMCR to all FCA-authorised firms. The so-called "core regime" introduces the key concepts of regulator-approved senior managers, firm-approved certification staff and conduct rules applicable to virtually all staff.

3 Oct 2017, Conference, Zurich, Switzerland

As the founding Partner of the Europe-Iran Forum, Dentons Europe will once again support this year’s event. This compelling event which explores all Iran-related topics will take place in Zürich on 3rd and 4th October.

4 Oct 2017, Workshop, London, UK

We are hosting an interactive workshop where we will run a mock High Court trial of an employee competition case – where the members of the audience are the judges. The session, aimed at in-house counsel and HR professionals, will offer an insight as to how disputes involving employees moving to a competitor play out in practice.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.