Europe Has Approved ‘Net Neutrality,’ but Not the Kind Advocates Wanted

The European Parliament has voted to approve new rules for Internet providers in major legislation that is nevertheless being slammed by net neutrality advocates who say the regulation is filled with loopholes.

The bill was passed with none of the amendments that consumer advocates and tech firms were pushing for in a last-ditch effort this week. Critics said the bill did not do enough to prevent Internet providers from classifying favored types of Web traffic as “specialized services” that are more lightly regulated. They also said it gives carriers too much freedom to exempt favored partners from customer data caps, a practice known as “zero rating.”

The vote will lead to a less competitive Internet as broadband providers seek to create paid “fast lanes,” opponents of the bill warned. Internet providers argued that it was in the “main interest of European consumers” to be able to choose among providers based on quality of service and support for various features such as connected cars or telemedicine. Stronger rules might restrict their ability to differentiate themselves and try different business models, they had previously argued.

Roaming provisions of the legislation ensure that users of a communications service traveling to another EU member state will no longer be slapped with high fees for going abroad. The measure pushes Europe toward greater integration, at least as far as mobile services.

But many net neutrality advocates are portraying the bill’s passage as a defeat for the policy.

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