The EU regulatory framework for communications was created in the 1990s to open up markets and culminated in 1998 with the liberalisation of national markets. The current sets of rules were adopted in 2002 and the European Commission launched a reviewing process in 2006 to modernise these rules, with the adoption of the final text in 2009.
The Telecom Package was an opportunity to improve the cooperation framework with Internet Service Providers and telecommunication companies in the fight against piracy. This proved one of the most controversial issues in the negotiations between the European Parliament, where many MEPs opposed any restrictions to users’ access to the internet, and the Council.
Following up to its commitment – one of the prerequisites for the successful conclusion of the EU telecoms reform package – to scrutinise closely the open and neutral nature of the internet and to report on the state of play to the European Parliament and the Council, the Commission decided in early 2010 to take forward the net neutrality debate. In June 2010 it launched a public consultation covering such issues as whether internet providers should be allowed to adopt certain traffic management practices, prioritising one kind of internet traffic over another; whether such traffic management practices may create problems and have unfair effects for users; whether the level of competition between different internet service providers and the transparency requirements of the new telecom framework may be sufficient to avoid potential problems by allowing consumers’ choice; and whether the EU needs to act further to ensure fairness in the internet market, or whether industry should take the lead.
On 19 April 2011 the Commission adopted a Communication on “The open internet and net neutrality in Europe”; the report suggests that here is no need for legislation to protect net neutrality and that the market and competition would ensure the neutrality of the internet. However, the Commission vowed to be vigilant that new EU telecoms rules on transparency, quality of service and the ability to switch operator are applied in a way that ensures that open and neutral internet principles are respected in practice. The Commission has also asked the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) to undertake a fact-finding exercise on issues crucial to ensuring an open and neutral internet, including barriers to changing operators, blocking or throttling internet traffic, transparency and quality of service. The Consultation is open until 31 July 2012 but findings have already been released.
On 27 July 2011 the Council adopted council conclusions on Net Neutrality underlining the need to preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet and establishing net neutrality as a policy objective.
At the Parliament, the issue is regularly debated and a resolution was adopted in Plenary on 17 November 2011 calling the EU to enshrine its concept in its law.
The European Data Protection Supervisor released a document in October 2011 - an Opinion on net neutrality, traffic management and the protection of privacy and personal data.
In May 2012, Commissioner Neelie Kroes has indicated her intention to legislate on net neutrality.