EC removes content filters from net neutrality exemptions

EC document reveals inclusion and then removal of exemption for anti-spam and parental controls within EU net neutrality agreement.

The European Commission has removed a section from its Q&A on the agreement reached last night on the Digital Single Market – deleting mention of a possible exemption within net neutrality laws for content and anti-spam filters.

The first release of the document appeared to state unequivocally that content blocks, filters and parental controls would be exempt from net neutrality provisions. Under a heading “What are the exceptions in the open Internet for traffic management?” the document included the following:

EC Digital Agenda

The relevant section, now missing, from the EC’s Q&A on Net Neutrality. (Click for bigger)

Since then the document appears to have been amended, or a new version uploaded, as any mention of parental control or spam filters is now missing.

The new exemptions with the missing bullet point.

The new exemptions with the missing bullet point. (Click for bigger)

A UK MEP involved in last night’s marathon three-way negotiations on the Digital Single Market said that the previous Q&A was “wrong” and “clearly drafted before the final deal agreed.”

Vicky Ford, a Conservative MEP and part of Parliament’s ECR Group negotiating team, had tweeted in the early hours of the morning of 30 June that “last minute demands by socialists” had meant that parental controls and anti-spam filters [applied by service providers] would not now be exempt under net neutrality laws on an EU-wide basis. Any national provisions can stay, she said, but there would be no exemption within the agreement.

However, when the EC’s official supporting documentation appeared, I asked Ford if that was indeed the case, as it appeared to suggest the opposite. She was clear that it was, and said the document was wrong.

Its silent amendment or altering appears to back her stance.

The potential implication for mobile operators is that services at a network level that provide filters and blocks, for instance parental controls, are now not exempt on an EU wide basis from net neutrality provisions. Providers of anti-spam and control gateways and engines will need to talk to their customers and ensure that such services do not place operators in a legally ambivalent position. That said, any national provisions will remain in place so the impact will be mitigated.