THE European Parliament has adopted a “net neutrality” law, barring internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to some kinds of traffic, such as video streaming, when it profits them.
As part of the same package of telecommunications law, “roaming” charges that mobile phone users pay when travelling in other countries will be banned within the European Union by 2016.
Without the “net neutrality” law it was feared providers would hog bandwidth, slowing the internet for others.
The law adopted today also forbids internet providers from blocking services such as Skype or WhatsApp that compete with their own offerings.
European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes hailed the decision as “historic.”
She said after the vote: “This is what Europe is all about.”
A net neutrality law in the US was struck down in January.
The 534-25 vote was greeted with delight by consumer advocates and online freedom groups, and with dismay by telecoms, who say they are systematically being denied profits they need to innovate and invest in new capacity.
European policy is now departing sharply with the route taken in the US, where since a net neutrality law was struck down, Netflix has contracted with Comcast for preferential treatment of internet traffic bearing its film streams.
Mobile phone operators hit out at the bid to ban “roaming” charges.
“Europe’s telecoms operators are facing decreasing revenues ... compared with operators in the US and Asia,” said the GSM Association, an industry group for mobile phone companies.
In a statement signed by director Anne Bouverot, the group said European laws are “impairing their ability to invest in the infrastructure required to put Europe back on the path to growth and jobs”.
The bill must pass a final hurdle before it becomes law: approval by national politicians at a Council of the European Union meeting later this year.
“Now the pressure turns to European leaders to listen to the people - not Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica,” said Luis Morago of activist group Avaaz.