European Union (EU) flags are seen outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. File photo: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR
European Union (EU) flags are seen outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. File photo: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR

Brussels — Europe’s highest court gave its backing to the EU’s net neutrality rules on Tuesday, which require telecoms operators to treat all internet traffic equally, dealing a blow to the telecoms industry that wants a less restrictive regime.

Adopted in 2015, the rules, which have got strong backing from large tech companies and consumer groups, prevent telecoms operators from blocking or slowing down traffic, or offering paid fast lanes.

Telecoms operators have been pushing for less stringent rules to allow them to increase revenues from specialised services such as connectivity for driverless cars and internet-connected devices to offset declining turnover from their traditional telephony business.

The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), in its first ruling on the subject, backed the principle of an open internet.

“The requirements to protect internet users’ rights and to treat traffic in a nondiscriminatory manner preclude an internet access provider from favouring certain applications and services by means of packages enabling those applications and services to benefit from a ‘zero tariff’ and making the use of the other applications and services subject to measures blocking or slowing down traffic,” judges said.

The European court’s judgment came after a Hungarian court had sought guidance in a case involving Hungarian mobile telecoms operator Telenor Magyarorszag which offers its customers preferential or so-called zero-tariff access packages which meant that the use of certain applications did not count towards consumption.

Hungary’s National Media and Infocommunications Authority in two decisions in 2017 said the company violated EU network neutrality rules and ordered it to scrap the offers.

Telenor Magyarorszag, which is part of Czech investment group PPF, subsequently challenged the rulings in a Hungarian court.

The case attracted attention in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Romania, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, which submitted comments to the CJEU.

Three years ago, the US repealed its landmark net neutrality rules, giving internet providers sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes.

The European court cases are Cases C-807/18 Telenor Magyarorszag & C-39/19 Telenor Magyarorszag.


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