As the FCC (News - Alert) moves toward the expected release of a network neutrality order in early 2015, a similar debate has been taking place in the European Union over the past several months. In April 2014, EU lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a resolution aimed at restricting Internet service providers from charging third parties for faster network access. However, the resolution requires the consent of the EU’s Council of Ministers before it is formally passed into law.
Since April 2014, a number of parties and politicians have argued against the measure, claiming that it would hinder innovation in the digital market. In December 2014, German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in, stating that telecommunications providers should be allowed to offer “special services” (i.e., faster connectivity for higher fees). This statement signaled a major shift in the EU debate, and is at odds with the statement made in November 2014 by President Obama, when he called on the FCC to impose public utility-type regulation on broadband services to preserve net neutrality.
Latvia took over the six-month rolling presidency of the European Council of Ministers on Jan. 1. In the list of priorities for its presidency term, it stated that EU members should push for a “compromise” on network neutrality, which appears consistent with allowing telecommunications providers to offer specialized services or other similar measures. We expect to see the debate in the EU to continue through the coming months, with an eye toward final resolution in mid- to late-2015. Should the EU and the U.S. diverge on their network neutrality policies, companies in the Internet space, including VoIP and managed services providers, may find themselves contending with different rules and market forces as their services cross international borders.
William B. Wilhelm (News - Alert) is a partner and Jeffrey R. Strenkowski is counsel at the global law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.
Edited by Maurice Nagle