The European Union’s Internet providers and regulators cannot be trusted to independently enforce net neutrality principles, cautions advocacy coalition

An EU law that prohibits blocking, throttling and discriminating against Internet content and applications came into force in 2016. But regulators have not been as stringent about enforcement as the group says they should be. Not least because national telecom regulators decide themselves how to implement the law, which has led to discrepancies between different EU member states.

More than 100 reports of alleged violations by Internet providers in more than 20 countries have been reported on the citizen watchdog platform Respect My Net, which was created by a coalition of digital rights organizations. Many reports relate to when an Internet provider offers preferential, unlimited – so-called “zero-rated” – access to a service like YouTube, Facebook or Spotify. Other reports make claims of throttling and blocking.

Thomas Lohninger from Austria helped create in 2015. Its goal was to get civil society directly involved in defending net neutrality by contacting members of the European Parliament, pressuring political parties and keeping tabs on telecom lobbyists.

Thomas Lohninger (CC0 1.0)

“If our goal is to keep the Internet free and open, our job is not done with theoretical safeguards. We have to apply them in practice to real world products that violate net neutrality,” says Lohninger.

“Net neutrality battles will keep us busy for quite some time, because there is just too much money and power at stake for certain stakeholders,” he adds.

Companies determined to seek legislative loopholes are not easily stopped. Because he sees few incentives for Internet providers to play by the rules, Lohninger believes the strongest advocates of net neutrality will be its beneficiaries: European citizens.

“Net neutrality is an issue that mobilizes grassroots activists all around the world because it makes sense to everyone who understands how the Internet works,” he notes.

That’s why, despite knowing just how difficult the battle ahead is likely to be, Lohninger is hopeful about the future. “I’m confident it is a solvable problem. Compare the number of stakeholders for net neutrality with those for issues like privacy or copyright and you’ll see it’s a comparatively simple problem to solve in our lifetime, even on a global scale,” he concludes.