Net neutrality has been a hot topic in recent years and with good reason. The principle that internet service providers must provide equal access to all internet content is critical.
William Prasifka moved to the United Kingdom to study law at the University of Cambridge, but ended up moving back to Dublin, Ireland, to become a barrister, where his main specialty lies in commercial and administrative law. As someone in the legal realm, he has taken a keen interest in net neutrality, especially as it applies to his home country of Ireland and the European Union as a whole. He provides his expertise on the subject of net neutrality in Ireland.
What is Net Neutrality?
In order to provide perspective on net neutrality laws in Ireland, barrister William Prasifka would first like to define net neutrality. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content on the internet, regardless of the source, without favoring or blocking certain websites. In essence, it is the belief that internet data should be treated equally and the same level of access and speed should be provided by all ISPs.
The European Union has their own net neutrality regulations in place, known as the EU’s Open Internet Regulation, which dictates the net neutrality rules across its member states. For example, through the EU’s Open Internet Regulation, all ISPs are required to treat traffic equally and provide users with the right to access content and distribute content regardless of their location or the nature of the content.
Despite these regulations being in place, the net neutrality principle is not absolute. ISPs do have some freedom to implement traffic management measurements. For example, a user’s access to certain content can be blocked or restricted for security purposes. Overall, net neutrality is a relatively new phenomenon, but it is one principle that badly needs to be protected. William Prasifka provides insight into why net neutrality is so important, as well as what the most recent ruling by The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) means for net neutrality in Ireland.
Why is Net Neutrality Important?
Ultimately, net neutrality is important because it is the only way to ensure a free and open internet. Further, if the principle of net neutrality is not adhered to, we run the risk of developing a two-tier system of internet access, whereby those who pay a premium have access to more content, better services, and faster internet speeds. For example, without net neutrality laws and regulations in place, internet service providers could start segmenting their offerings, charging more to freely access certain websites like Netflix, YouTube, or Spotify.
Barrister William Prasifka of Dublin, Ireland, believes that the overarching fear is that a lack of net neutrality would mean that the best, most whole version of the internet would be available to a premium, wealthier tier of users to the detriment of all others.
It would give internet service providers, along with their commercial partners or advertisers, the freedom to block or restrict access to competitors services, which would seriously undermine democracy and equal access for all. Ultimately, countries including Ireland need to make protecting net neutrality a top priority.
Thankfully, countries in the European Union are protected at least partially under the EU’s Open Internet Regulation. An example of a recent ruling by the CJEU upheld and affirmed the sanctity of net neutrality in the region.
William Prasifka on the Most Recent Ruling by the CJEU
Earlier this year, on September 15, 2020, The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on the Telenor Magyarország Zrt v Nemzeti Média -és Hírközlési Hatóság Elnöke case. This case, which concerned a telecom company in Hungary’s decision to offer two different packages to its customers, was the first judgment made by the CJEU regarding net neutrality since the Open Internet Regulation came into effect in 2016. The issue at hand was that Telenor Hungary, the telecom company in question, had violated net neutrality laws by offering customers packages that gave them unlimited access to certain websites, while all other internet access was subject to a data cap (this is a practice known as zero-rating or zero-tariffing). They had two packages available: a social media “MyChat” package, which offered unlimited access to WhatsApp, Facebook, and Viber, and a music “MyMusic” package, which offered unlimited access to Apple Music and Spotify, among others.
The CJEU ruled against Telenor Hungary, stating that once a user has reached their data cap, an internet service provider does not have the power to offer that user preferential access to certain content over others. The court viewed this as an infringement on net neutrality laws, with the reasoning being that such package offerings would increase the use of the favored services to the detriment of other available services, such as those of competitors.
The CJEU also considered the scale of such a practice; if more and more customers took advantage of these packages, the limitation of users’ rights would only grow.
Barrister William Prasifka of Dublin, Ireland, believes that the CJEU’s ruling makes clear that an open internet where freedom of choice is fostered is the top priority when it comes to net neutrality, which he believes is where it should be. In Ireland specifically, Prasifka states that the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the Irish telecoms regulator, has been extremely active in monitoring ISPs to ensure that net neutrality is not being eroded.
Last year alone, ComReg issued several non-compliance notices to ISPs in Ireland on the grounds that they were at risk of breaching net neutrality laws.
However, in the wake of the CJEU decision, ComReg issued a report stating it “found no evidence for the existence of relevant zero-rated services in Ireland,” in contrast to 2019. According to William Prasifka, this hopefully implies that net neutrality issues surrounding zero rated packages are becoming less common in Ireland, a trend that should continue now that the CJEU has made its most recent ruling.