Europe updates net neutrality rules to ban zero-rated apps

According to a document released on Tuesday, Europe’s telecoms regulator has updated its net neutrality guidelines and introduced a strict ban on anti-competitive zero-rating practices.

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has provided guidance to regulators across the continent on their “obligations to closely monitor and ensure compliance with the rules to uphold fair and non-discriminatory treatment of traffic in the provision of internet access services and related End User Rights.”

Zero rating is when an ISP does not count a specific app, set of apps, or specific content toward a consumer’s monthly data cap. The practice exempts certain dates while other dates would count towards the cap. Which data falls into which category is determined by the ISPs – sometimes with fee-based agreements by the apps themselves – which can lead to an anti-competitive market and unfair playing field.

While Europe will implement these new regulations across the continent, the US does not yet have national regulations restricting zero rating. However, a California law — often referred to as the “gold standard” of net neutrality laws — will outlaw the practice in the state. The law was passed in 2018 and has faced multiple court challenges, but is finally clear after the latest challenge from ISP groups was dropped early last month.

In Europe, the new rules come after a European court ruled that the “zero tariff” apps violated Europe’s open internet rules, which mandate “equal treatment of traffic without discrimination or interference”.

“BEREC’s previous net neutrality policies did not categorically prohibit selective zero-rating programs or category-based programs that, for example, offer to zero-rate all music or video apps,” wrote Stanford law professor Barbara van Schewick. “Therefore, airlines across the EU took advantage and collectively launched hundreds of zero rating programs. These often excluded carriers’ own services and benefited disproportionately from big platforms like Apple, Google and Facebook, while small businesses and European startups were left out.”

Van Schewick said that “network operators across the EU will soon end their discriminatory zero-rating plans and customers on those plans will be offering significantly more data for the same price,” although zero-rating is not outright banned. Carriers can still exempt data usage from a cap “at certain times of the day or as a promotion; It just can’t force you to use that data on any particular website.”

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*Initial publication: June 16, 2022 2:21 pm CDT

Jacob Seitz

Jacob Seitz is a freelance journalist originally from Columbus, Ohio, interested in the intersection of culture and politics.

Jacob Seitz Europe updates net neutrality rules to ban zero-rated apps

Jaclyn Diaz

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